The human brain is a remarkable and powerful thing. Under ideal conditions it is capable of processing billions of pieces of information each second and can synthesize complex solutions / understandings based on years of stored information in moments. It has taken a long time for a computer to come anywhere close to the capacity of the brain and it still isn’t there.
However, unlike an electronic computer, the human brain has a need to survive. To this end, built within it are mechanisms that will protect it; or more accurately, protect the body that holds it. The key mechanism is the ability to alter function, to turn off certain areas of the brain allowing other areas to exert more influence.
Rewind to a time when life was more simple, when our ancestors lived off the land, in caves or primitive huts. This was a time when logical thinking would get you killed given that it is not reactive and takes time. In crisis situations the brain needed to do one of two things, run or fight. A compelling reason is of no assistance when a predator has you in its sights and is bearing down you, you need to physically beat on the creature or you need to run.
Out of this environment springs forth brains that are programmed to suppress logical thought in times of crisis, and let the parts of the brain that promote fight or flight reactions control the show.
Various brain scan technologies reveal that the prefrontal cortex shuts down during highly emotional experiences, taking off-line the capacity for executive functioning – logical thought, the relevance of time, the concept of consequences, etc…. Without a future the individual is completely in the moment and is not capable of the things that they would normally be. In this emotionally charged state you attack to kill or run. Survival is the only outcome and everything becomes about that.
How does this help you get more out of your brain?
Well, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for so much of what makes human being unique and exceptional. Anything that reduces the level of functioning of this part of the brain is detrimental to our being exceptional (with the obvious exception to times when we need to be destructively reactive such that we fight or run).
Here is a list of the things that cause the prefrontal cortex to shut-down:
- Intense emotional responses. Emotions can serve a survival function so they cannot coexist with logical thought. Reducing stress and anxiety will allow the prefrontal cortex to become more active which will improve the entire thought process.
- Low blood sugar. The brain uses sugar so if you are hungry or your blood sugar level is low, the prefrontal cortex is the first part of the brain to shut-down. Controlling blood sugar by eating good quality whole foods will keep levels normal and keep brain functioning high.
- Low amounts of glucose in the prefrontal cortex. Even if your blood sugar level is high, too much thinking will use-up a lot of the glucose that is available in the brain. For this reason, it is best to avoid thinking about things that are heavy or require a lot of logical thought after periods of intense thinking of any nature.
- Being tired. When we are tired, the prefrontal cortex powers down. It’s best to avoid though thinking at the end of the day when we are burned out and running on empty.