In part 1 we discussed the role of the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus as well as their role working together reacting to risk, negative mood and that there are templated patterns that we have in our thinking that do not always serve us.
The good news is that we human beings are not at the mercy of this programming, we have the largest frontal lobes of any animal. The frontal lobes are associated with higher-level functions such as self control, planning, logic, creativity and abstract thought. These things all make us ‘human’ and different to every other species on the planet.
If we are to work up from the Amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus to the outer parts of the brain, we need to talk about the role of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the left pre-frontal cortex. (LPFC). The ACC is the gatekeeper to the part of the brain that makes us, well, us. The cerebrum and all that it contains, whether it’s language, mathematical calculation and reasoning, visual processing, creativity and artistic ability. These higher level functions are available to us at anytime and it’s important to understand how we can access these when the world is not going our way, we’re feeling defeated, negative, depressed, anxious or otherwise. These negative emotions call the primitive parts of the brain in to action and we are more likely to carry out the same things that we have always done if we are not engaging the creative, more powerful parts of our anatomy.
The gatekeeper or secretary:
The anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for a number of things such as attention allocation, regulating blood pressure, decision making and error detection, however it’s role also includes being in charge of which sections of the brain to engage.
The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is vigilant and always assessing and will direct signals to differing parts of the brain dependent on the scenario. Should there be a threat to your life or something not right that needs attention, as we know, if there is a high risk scenario or typically a negative scenario the ACC will choose to engage with the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus to get us out of trouble, but those are not the only parts of our brain that it has access too.
The ACC can also engage that creative part of the brain, the left and right hemisphere’s of our cerebrum that contain all the creative and powerful parts of our brains that problem solve, comprehend and create. If the ACC detects positive language, a positive scenario or identifies that an entirely new way is required to solve the problem, it will engage with the left pre-frontal cortex.
You can think of it as the receptionist or gatekeeper that directs what thoughts should engage with which part of the brain. At a very basic level, it sends negative thoughts to the primitive part of the brain and positive thoughts to the creative part of the brain.
The creative part of your brain:
The left prefrontal cortex is where some great things happen in your brain when you work from this area. In someways this is you, the best you and the most powerful you. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain is key to reasoning, problem solving, comprehension, impulse control, creativity ands perseverance. These are called ‘Executive Functions’ and are needed when we are required to focus and think.
This is the part of the brain that can think before we react. I’s is in control and not subject to emotions in it’s thinking.
Accessing the creative part of your brain:
There are two key factors in being able to spend more time in the left pre-frontal cortex rather than reacting through the primitive part of the brain.
1. Focus and control over thoughts to be able to direct your attention there, rather than being at the mercy of the quick reacting primitive templated responses.
2. Positive thought, positive action and positive interaction. The more positive our mental language, the more easy it is to engage with the left pre-frontal cortex. Positive action and interaction, provide positive feelings, enhanced mood and great feeling chemicals that get us wanting more.
These 2 things mean that there is plenty that we can do to change the way we think that will lead to a life with more love, joy and happiness in it.
A simple example of how thought can be directed to the left pre-frontal cortex is a habit we teach to our children. When they get angry or frustrated, we suggest that they count to 10 to be able to come from a place of calm to approach the given situation? Doing this utilises the ACC to focus and direct further thinking to the frontal lobe so that other executive functions can be called upon. Consequently engaging the part of ther brain that will help with creating a solution to the issue rather than relying on a templated response to anger/frustration.
This section of my blog is all about how to make the most of this understanding of the brain to bring us all more of things in our lives that we really want.
The next instalment (Part 3) is about how we use focus in the ACC and that numerous studies have shown it is possible to strengthen this observational part of our brains, which provides us with more choice in the way in which you react to all situations, e.g. which part of the brain we engage with.