Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself

Survival vs Creation

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself  Survival vs Creation – In the last chapter, I purposely used the example of my writing to illustrate my point about transcending the Big Three, because when you write, you are creating words (whether on the physical page or in a digital document).

The same creativity is operating when you paint, play a musical instrument, turn wood on a lathe, or engage in any other activity that has the effect of breaking the bonds that the Big Three hold over you.

Why is it so hard to live in these creative moments? If we focus on an unwanted past or a dreaded future, that means that we live mostly in stress—in survival mode.

Whether we’re obsessing over our health (the survival of the body), paying our mortgage (the survival need for shelter from our external environment), or not having enough time to do what we need to do to survive, most of us are much more familiar with the addictive state of mind we’ll call “survival” than we are with living as creators.

In my first book, I went into great detail about the difference between living in creation versus living in survival. So, for a fuller explanation of this difference, you may want to read Chapters 8 through 11 in Evolve Your Brain. In the pages that follow, I’m going to briefly outline the difference between the two.

Think of life in survival mode by picturing an animal, such as a deer contentedly grazing in the forest. Let’s assume that it is in homeostasis, in perfect balance.

But if it perceives some danger in the outside world—say, a predator—its fight-or-flight nervous system gets turned on. This sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which maintains the body’s automatic functions such as digestion, temperature regulation, blood-sugar levels, and the like.

To prepare the animal to deal with the emergency it has detected, the body is chemically altered—the sympathetic nervous system automatically activates the adrenal glands to mobilize enormous amounts of energy. If the deer is chased by a pack of coyotes, it utilizes that energy to flee.

If it is nimble enough to get away unharmed, then perhaps after 15 to 20 minutes when the threat is no longer present, the animal resumes grazing, its internal balance restored.

We humans have the same system in place. When we perceive danger, our sympathetic nervous system is turned on, energy is mobilized, and so on, in much the same way as the deer.

During early human history, this wonderfully adaptive response helped us confront threats from predators and other risks to our survival. Those animal qualities served us well for our evolution as a species.

Thought Alone Can Trigger the Human Stress Response— and Keep It Going

Unfortunately, there are several differences between Homo sapiens and our planetary cohabitants in the animal kingdom that don’t serve us as well.

Every time we knock the body out of chemical balance, that’s called “stress.” The stress response is how the body innately responds when it’s knocked out of balance, and what it does to return back to equilibrium.

Whether we see a lion in the Serengeti, bump into our not-so-friendly ex at the grocery store, or freak out in freeway traffic because we’re late for a meeting, we turn on the stress response because we are reacting to our external environment.

Unlike animals, we have the ability to turn on the fight-or-flight response by thought alone. And that thought doesn’t have to be about anything in our present circumstances.

We can turn on that response in anticipation of some future event. Even more disadvantageous, we can produce the same stress response by revisiting an unhappy memory that is stitched in the fabric of our gray matter.

So, either we anticipate stress-response-producing experiences, or we recollect them, our bodies are either existing in the future or in the past. To our detriment, we turn short-term stressful situations into long-term ones.

On the other hand, as far as we can tell, animals don’t have the ability (or should I say disability) to turn on the stress response so frequently and so easily that they can’t turn it off.

That deer, back to happily grazing, isn’t consumed with thoughts about what just happened a few minutes ago, let alone the time a coyote chased it two months ago.

This kind of repetitive stress is harmful to us, because no organism was designed with a mechanism to deal with negative effects on the body when the stress response is turned on with great frequency and for long duration.

In other words, no creature can avoid the consequences of living in long-term emergency situations. When we turn on the stress response and can’t turn it off, we’re headed for some type of breakdown in the body.

Let’s say you keep turning on the fight-or-flight system due to some threatening circumstance in your life (real or imagined). As your racing heart pumps enormous amounts of blood to your extremities and your body is knocked out of homeostasis, you’re becoming prepared by the nervous system to run or fight.

But let’s face it: you can’t flee to the Bahamas, nor can you throttle your fellow employee—that would be primitive. So as a consequence, you condition your heart to race all the time, and you may be headed for high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and so on.

And what’s in store when you keep mobilizing all that energy for some emergency situation? If you’re putting the bulk of your energy toward some issue in your external environment, there will be little left for your body’s internal environment.

Your immune system, which monitors your inner world, can’t keep up with the lack of energy for growth and repair. Therefore, you get sick, whether it be from a cold, cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis. (All are immune-mediated conditions.)

When you think about it, the real difference between animals and ourselves is that although we both experience stress, humans reexperience and “pre-experience” traumatic situations.

What is so harmful about having our stress response triggered by pressures from the past, present, and future? When we get knocked out of chemical balance so often, eventually that out-of-balance state becomes the norm.

As a result, we are destined to live out our genetic destiny, and in most cases that means suffering from some illness.

The reason is clear: The domino effect from the cascade of hormones and other chemicals we release in response to stress can dysregulate some of our genes, and that may create disease.

In other words, repeated stress pushes the genetic buttons that cause us to begin to head toward our genetic destiny. So, what was once very adaptive behavior, and a beneficial biochemical response (fight or flight) has become a highly maladaptive and harmful set of circumstances.

For instance, when a lion was chasing your ancestors, the stress response was doing what it was designed to do—protect them from their outer environment. That’s adaptive.

But if, for days on end, you fret about your promotion, overfocus on your presentation to upper management, or worry about your mother being in the hospital, these situations create the same chemicals as though you were being chased by a lion.

Now, that’s maladaptive. You’re staying too long in emergency mode. Fight-or-flight is using up the energy your internal environment needs.

Your body is stealing this vital energy from your immune, digestive, and endocrine systems, among others, and directing it to the muscles that you’d use to fight a predator or run from danger. But in your situation, that’s only working against you.

From a psychological perspective, overproduction of stress hormones creates the human emotions of anger, fear, envy, and hatred; incites feelings of aggression, frustration, anxiety, and insecurity; and causes us to experience pain, suffering, sadness, hopelessness, and depression.

Most people spend the majority of their time preoccupied with negative thoughts and feelings. Is it likely that most of the things that are happening in our present circumstances are  negative? Obviously not.

Negativity runs so high because we are either living in anticipation of stress or re-experiencing it through a memory, so most of our thoughts and feelings are driven by those strong hormones of stress and survival.

When our stress response is triggered, we focus on three things, and they are of highest importance:

• The body. (It must be taken care of.)

• The environment. (Where can I go to escape this threat?)

• Time. (How much of it do I have to use in order to evade this threat?)

Living in survival is the reason why we humans are so dominated by the Big Three. The stress response and the hormones that it triggers force us to focus on (and obsess about) the body, the environment, and time.

As a result, we begin to define our “self” within the confines of the physical realm; we become less spiritual, less conscious, less aware, and less mindful.

Put another way, we grow to be “materialists”—that is, habitually consumed by thoughts of things in the external environment.

Our identity becomes wrapped up in our bodies. We are absorbed by the outer world because that is what those chemicals force us to pay attention to—things we own, people we know, places we have to go, problems we face, hairstyles we dislike, our body parts, our weight, our looks in comparison to others, how much time we have or don’t have … you get the picture. And we remember who we are based primarily on what we know and the things we do.

Living in survival causes us to focus on the .00001 percent instead of the 99.99999 percent of reality.



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Regards, Coyalita

Behavioral Health Rehabilitative Specialist & Addiction Counselor

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