The Brain that Lies

I was deeply touched by the warm response many of you gave my first blog post. Clearly it was enough positive reinforcement for me to attempt again 😉 Not without those scary voices showing up, of course.

A past client asked me if I could watch the pilot episode of Offspring (Channel 10): “It’s me!”, she said, “it shows what it’s like inside my head.” I thought it was a fair enough request, and to make sure I understood her point I watched the full four seasons… Anyway, the point is, this mother was right – it was a great portrayal of what it’s like inside her mind. Not just hers, of course, but all of ours.

The reality is ALL of us have a constant barrage of thoughts thrown at us every hour we’re awake (and for some of us this continues in really awesome – or terrifying – dreams). We have the privileged position of being on top of the food chain – and it’s our clever minds that got us there. But they didn’t do it by being an awesome cheer squad.

Here’s the thing – our minds tell us all this stuff, all the time, day in, day out – but it forgets to tell us some really important things – like that it can be a:

 

Dirty

 

Rotten

 

Liar!

 

Our minds get busy keeping rather biased records. They makes judgments, assumptions, guesses – and note it all down under headings like “Truth” and “Fact”. Even when it doesn’t know something – and this is important – it makes it up and doesn’t tell you it’s lying. You don’t have to believe me on this, we can look at the science.

One of the more extreme treatments for severe epilepsy is to sever the corpus callosum – the big bundle of nerve fibres that joins your left hemisphere to your right. It effectively gives you two brains. Of course, when you create “two” from “one”, scientists want to play with that – and they have. One of the things they’ve explored is what happens if you present information to the right hemisphere, and then ask the left hemisphere about it. Curious? The left hemisphere, responsible for speech, and a keen problem-solver, gives a perfectly plausible explanation about what’s going on – even though it doesn’t actually know. Folks, it just makes shit up and doesn’t let you in on the secret! The left hemisphere is AWESOME at problem solving – it will invent perfectly logical-sounding antecedents (that which happens before) and consequences (that which happens after) to explain events it knows NOTHING about! Check it out in action here:

I have some experience in this myself. In my mid-20’s I sought the opinion of an Audiologist as I was worried I was going deaf. My hearing tested fine, so he suggested we check my auditory processing. The testing process involves having to repeat things you hear through headphones whilst discriminating from background noise. The test was EASY. I walked confidently out of the booth expecting the audiologist to tell me I got near 100% and was simply neurotic.

I flunked the test and was diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder. The audiologist was pretty unequivocal about it. Phrases he used when giving me my results included “98% of the population can process sound better than you”, and “your disability is so profound it’s amazing you weren’t misdiagnosed with autism”. What had happened? My brain had just entirely MADE UP what it THOUGHT I was hearing – and forgot to tell me that’s what it was doing!! My ever helpful mind does this for me all the time in all kinds of social situations – I sometimes answer questions entirely different to that which was asked, much to the amusement (and/or bemusement) of the people I’m talking to.

I’m grateful to my mind, to minds in general, that they can do this. Often when my brain fills in the blanks, it’s accurate. The problem-solving capacity we excel at is what keeps us inventing and innovating. But it also does this too:

  • Jill’s husband comes home late from work and her problem-solving mind fills in the blanks “he’s avoiding me and the kids”
  • Anna’s friend doesn’t return her call for three days because “I’ve offended her, she’s mad at me”
  • Karl’s boss calls him in to his office because “I’m being performance managed”
  • People are staring at Michelle managing her tantrumming two year old in the shopping centre because “they think I’m a bad mum”.

Yeah – you know this, chances are you’re maybe chuckling, because we know we’ve all done this. Possibly multiple times just today. And it’s not going to stop any time soon – not whilst we’re still breathing.

So what do we do about it? In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, we talk about holding our thoughts “lightly”. When we notice our mind caught up in these amazing stories, we can take a step back to notice this process at work – to thank it, genuinely, for a job well done – but to remember that our mind is only ONE information source. We can also check in with our five senses about what’s going on around us, and we can talk with other people to check out our thinking.

Remember in my last post I mentioned all my shouty voices suggesting I shouldn’t start a blog? I decided to hold them lightly – to acknowledge they were there, but to check it out for myself rather than taking my mind’s word for it. The warmth in the responses I received through comments and emails showed me that it was worth holding those thoughts lightly after all – especially when others were also brave and posted comments to the public, some for the very first time. I’m still just as anxious (if not more so) posting this time – but I’ve checked in with my values (a topic for another time), held my thoughts lightly (there will be a skills post on this at some point), and Done It Anyway.

 

Go Deeper Now

I’m going to blog away at this, and other topics, one post at a time, about once or twice a month. If you want to explore this stuff further now, I highly recommend “The Happiness Trap” by Russ Harris as a great starting point for understanding and applying ACT.

 

Help Me Out

The usefulness of this blog is dependent on it being relevant to you! Hit me up with ideas, suggestions, comments, feedback. Tell me how you’re going with playing around with holding your thoughts lightly. And to make sure you don’t miss a post, hit the follow button at the bottom of this page.

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8 Responses to The Brain that Lies

  1. myfangrykitty says:

    Wowsers. That is amazing!! I started discussing it with my partner and we ended up questioning our very reality, so …. don’t think too hard on it! Gorgeously written post, and love being allowed more insight into your own human condition along the way 🙂

    Like

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Oh wow – that’s amazing! My brain lies to me???? We’ll have to sort that out. When is the “how to” blog coming. Hope I don’t have to wait a month!

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  4. Josie says:

    Hi, I find this all very relevant, thank you for writing about this. Honestly though, the four examples you give hold so strong and true for (I would assume) most mums of little kids (due to change in role/social isolation/changing circumstances/loss of control etc), that how could we chuckle at these thoughts until we are, um about 50!!! I look at these examples and have experienced every one, there’s no chuckling, not even on hindsight! The stress and internal turmoil is so intense. How does one hold these things ‘lightly’ at all?! As an aside, I’m in the middle of ‘the happiness project’ which is giving a different perspective on things, I think it will be helpful. Does the book complement ACT??

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    • Hi Josie, thanks so much for having a read, and for the courage in leaving a comment. I hear you – holding lightly the thoughts that appear so LOUD and REAL is definitely NOT easy! And when we first start to try, those thoughts will tantrum like toddlers at us for attention! Keep with me – I’m not sure if you read my post on playful thinking, but it’s the start for developing some skills for treating those thoughts differently. More to come soon – in bite sized pieces, I’m afraid. Meanwhile, I’m not too familiar with The Happiness Project, though I’ve had a quick look at the website. It looks like there would be some overlap (eg mindfulness), but I think there would be some differences too. I hope you’ll keep reading, and keep commenting. Warmly, Tiffany

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