The limbic system is the ancient portion of our brains that runs in autopilot mode all the time. It manages our innate urges, moods and emotions. The limbic system tells us when we are hungry, when we are in danger (fight or flight reaction), when we are bored, and when we want to spend ten minutes doodling for no apparent reason. The limbic system is all about the present! It seeks balance through instant solutions to only the most immediate and animalistic problems, constantly scanning the environment for the possibility for a threat to put into action a flight and fight reaction or for a reward and enable more in depth thinking and planning. Therefore, the tag is an emotion, a reward emotion is typically positive, and a treat emotion is negative. The limbic system is the most dominant cognitive feature in most of the animal kingdom. People refer to the limbic system also as “the lizard brain”, or the emotional brain. When the lizard brain scans the environment and there and only rewarding emotions are tagged and no threats appear initiating a fight or flight reaction the emotional or lizard brain allows for the prefrontal cortex to act next.
The prefrontal cortex is the inactive, rich and interconnected part of the brain which makes us human. It’s the part of our brains that plans, calculates and makes decisions. It innovates and find solutions for problematic situations and is located at the front of our heads. This is the part that we hold or tap when we are looking for a good idea. (Come on brain, think harder!). The prefrontal cortex is the core of creative thinking and innovation, that turns oxygen and energy into ideas, and then organizes them into plans for how we can improve any aspect of our lives. The thoughts that occur inside our prefrontal cortexes ultimately define who we are as individuals.
However, the slight problem there, is that, the prefrontal cortex is a lot weaker than the limbic system and has no autopilot. If we are not actively thinking at any given moment, the limbic system will dominate over the prefrontal cortex, and we will start a mental journey towards comfort. In fact, engaging ourselves with constructive and creative thinking in general, is hard work. Say we are carrying a very heavy shipping bag, our limbic system, is screaming at us to the bag down. Putting the heavy bag down is the easiest route to comfort. Unfortunately, our limbic system also has a very similar response when we start using our prefrontal cortex and are trying to think hard and innovate. The limbic system would prefer us no not think at all. Really though, the shopping bag has to me moved, yet we must think these thoughts if we are going to achieve the goals, we have set for ourselves.
What is important to note though is that if we are in a constant state of stress, or we feel threatened or overwhelmed it means we are operating only with our lizard brain in action. Our thoughts narrow down and we´re incapable of solving complicated problems as we´re not allowing for the prefrontal cortex to take part in our thinking process. Our emotional brain has the reins and before we can put our prefrontal cortex into action and find a solution to a problematic situation, we must have control over our feelings. This is something that can be practiced by anyone and has been studied vastly by neurobiologists and in behavioral sciences. Neuroplasticity plays a key role in teaching our brain new tricks and the key here is consistent repetition of identifying your feelings then taking control of them and being able to utilize the control of your emotions to adapt them into your behaviour to influence people around you.
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Palmer, D., 2018. Genos University | Genos University Membership Portal. [online] Genosuniversity.com. Available at: <https://genosuniversity.com/> [Accessed 13 April 2020].