By Jon Wortmann
The evolution of the human species is possible right now, if, and this is the most important “if,” for the next century, we decide to use our brains on purpose. You can evolve faster, chart jump nature, if you learn to use your frontal lobes more effectively.
Your frontal lobes are the key to mindfulness, and mindfulness is all the rage these days. It should be. It is the art and science of living with intention and being where you are. It is the psychological reality of turning down unnecessary stress by only focusing on what matters in the moment. It is what fMRIs of the brains of meditating monks prove every human can do if we spend a little more time paying attention to how we think.
The preachers of mindfulness are yoga instructors, therapists, and stress reduction psychologists and teachers. It has shown up at companies like Google and in hospitals across the country. It is based on a very specific act that every human is capable of practicing: Be where you are.
Easier said than accomplished with all the stimuli surrounding a modern mind. But this is the miracle: In every human life the ability to be more focused and feel better each day is a gift waiting to be practiced and experienced. No matter how big a mess your life is, you can always begin the process of learning to be more mindful.
We’re not crazy for feeling like we can never just slow down and be present. Our brain is both old and new. We have an old brain that wants us to survive and will drive us to overreact, stay fat so we won’t die in the famine that will surely come, and take advantage of whatever pleasure is quickest, cheapest, and most exciting. Usually that means TV, social media, and video games. It often means doing less of what we know is best for us because our brains are literally driving us to take advantage of what feels best now.
We also have a new brain, however, which you can engage almost every minute. You, a human being, have frontal lobes that allow you think, anticipate the future, and make decisions. If you use them well, you can love every moment of your life, even the painful times, because instead of doing what your old brain is driving you to do, you are the master of your universe. You choose how you want to experience each new moment.
Here’s how it works. If you get cut off in traffic, you honk your horn without thinking. That’s the old brain, and it is a good thing: It reacts to keep us safe. But the swearing that comes next is also the old brain, and too much “old brain” thinking is what’s causing wars around the world. It’s in that next moment, as you notice the stress, that you can choose to continue reacting or simply step back. Once the person has cut you off, you’re no longer in danger.
A person who continues to react will stay revved up, cut someone else off, eat too much at lunch because they are still pissed off, get sluggish from the extra calories, forget a conference call, and get chewed out by their boss.
A mindful person will simply let the stress of being cut off cascade. Yeah, a mindful person may swear too. But only for a few sentences. Then she will step back. She will realize that there is no danger.
We all eat too much, get into conflict, and soothe ourselves with dangerous behaviors because we aren’t mindful.
The evolution of the human species is about choosing how much our life we want to be a reaction to what’s outside us vs. a choice about the experience we want to have right now. When we practice being where we are, reacting only when we really need to, we widen the choices we have to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
Imagine a world of mindful people. We’d still swear at each other when we need to; and then we’d go get a coffee, together, because why react your life away when there are so many amazing experiences to savor.