Why your brain doesn’t know what “enough” is
We’re rapidly approaching a time of year that is sometimes referred to as the season of giving. But have you noticed that the Holiday season is particularly brutal when it comes to the pressure to “have it all”? Everywhere we turn, we are reminded that there’s not enough, that we are not enough. The message is More, more, more! Do more. Be more. Buy more.
In reality, of course, the result is just more stress — and way less of everything the advertisers tell you is within reach (happiness, freedom, connection) if you just buy this one…more…thing.
The word “enough” is not one often invoked in our culture, especially at this time of year. Strangely, in our pursuit of more, we often miss out on the experience of true personal abundance. When we get caught up in cycles of comparison, proving, and striving, we forget to notice how much is already there, right in front of us.
Fun fact: When you ask most Americans what they’ll need to feel financially secure, they almost invariably say they need about twice what they make today. If they make $25,000 a year, they think you need about $50,000. Make $100,000 a year, they think you need $200,000. The trend doesn’t start to taper off until about $1,000,000 a year. Millionaires only think they need 80% more to be secure. Just $1,800,000 a year to make them feel like they’re secure.
So it seems the issue for most of us is not the actual presence or absence of material abundance. Our perception of “enough” seems to be permanently askew. What the heck is going on?
To compress 10,000 years of modern human history into a couple of paragraphs, it boils down to this: scarcity and survival. When our ancient ancestors (with their undeveloped prefrontal cortices) were roughing it out on the planet, the name of the game was not becoming some animal’s lunch, not succumbing to disease or starvation, constantly battling the elements (and presumably sometimes each other) in order to live long enough to pass on their genetic material to the next generation. There was no happy hour, no late-night lineup, no paid vacations.
They survived because their environment was brutal, and their non-verbalized mental mantra had to be, More, more, more. Their amygdalae were constantly on high alert, because danger and competition were everywhere. (Arguably, they did a pretty good job of it, since I’m sitting here typing this and you’re sitting there reading it.)
But what happens when there are no more lions to fend off and we have sophisticated medical care for even the slightest of ailments? For those of us fortunate to be living in the developed world in 2016, our lives bear little or no resemblance to those of our ancestors. The minute-by-minute threat of scarcity is virtually gone — not for all of us, of course, but for many of us.
Here’s the catch: in terms of evolution, 10,000 years is a blink. There has been a dizzying amount of radical change to societies and environments in that amount of time. But the brain is slow to catch up. All it takes is the tiniest trigger — like a TV ad whose not-so-subtle underlying message is that your very happiness and social acceptance depend on what kind of purse or shoes you buy — and your brain flips into scarcity mode. Not enough! Not enough! More, more, more!
Advertisers basically make it their job to appeal to the caveperson in all of us. And it works.
It is an interesting exercise to just practice critical awareness during this season. It’s true that much of our reactions are so hardwired that we don’t even consciously register them from one moment to the next. But here is an exercise you can try: When you’re faced with advertisements (which is everywhere, all the time), or you’re starting to feel that pang of anxiety that so often descends during the Holidays — take a second and ask yourself, What’s the underlying message I’m encountering? What are they trying to convince me I “need” right now? How are they trying to make me feel a sense of scarcity and threat? What tactics are they using to trigger my amygdala? And maybe the most powerful question we can ask: Is this message true?
The more you practice presence and being awake to your surroundings, the more your neuroconnections have a chance to re-wire on the circuit of abundance and gratitude.
Your regular Higher Brain Living® sessions and coursework can help you engage from a place of abundance, freeing you from the stress triggers of the lower brain. You can be aware of the messages that surround you — and you can have the power to decide if you’re going to believe them or not. I’d love a chance to connect with you and share more! You can contact me by clicking here.