Quick Strategies of the Past no Longer Work in Modern Times.

I remember being sixteen and my first girlfriend. Whenever I could not contact her I would be full of fear that she had left me for some other boy who is smarter, charming and better looking. I would slip into a state of sadness until she reassured me that I was the one who was smarter, charming and good-looking; that she was head over heal crazy about me.

I would feel silly for thinking the worst possible reasons for my inability to reach her. I would be very hard on myself for thinking such thought. It is only now I can be compassionate towards myself because I know that I had little control over those thought and emotions. Here’s why.

Our brains over millions of years have been designed to over-estimate the dangers, this had a survival value. If you were in a lion country and you heard a noise you are more likely to think there is a lion and run away. If you stayed around to make sure it was a lion you may not survive to tell it was a lion.  Our brains were not designed to be accurate when there is a threatening situation; to survive you had to make assumptions rapidly, not caring very much if it’s wrong. It is far better to run thinking it’s a lion even if you are wrong nine times out of ten. This ‘jumping to conclusions’ and assuming the worst has actually saved many of our ancestors’ lives.


The point is that our threat / self – protection system has been designed along fairly simple lines to detect threats and protect us. These systems still gets triggered but we are not able to respond like our ancestors did by running away.  With our ‘ new minds’, our capacity for thinking, reflecting and rumination our desires for self-preservation and to impress and influence others, does not allow us to respond in a simplistic manner. We may even end up hating the feeling that the situation generates inside us-which usually makes things worse. So again we need to train our brains carefully and compassionately to offset this tendency. It is not our fault that our primitive impulse tries to find a quick solution to a complex situation.

In the future post we will look into how we may guide ourselves by understanding  these primitive impulses.


The Compassionate Mind  by Paul Gilbert



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