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Awaken Your Strongest Self
BREAK FREE OF STRESS, INNER CONFLICT, AND SELF-SABOTAGE
By NEIL FIORE
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2007Neil Fiore
All rights reserved.
Five Signs That You Are Not Your Strongest Self ... Yet
All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable; they only fade when confronted with a new and stronger life passion.
—Carl G. Jung
During my twenty-five years as a psychologist and ten years as a life coach, I've discovered that if you want to reach your true potential, it's much more effective to ignite a new passion for life than to dwell on past problems. We begin our process, however, by identifying five major problem areas and reactive patterns so you can quickly replace them with the action steps, leadership, and qualities of your Strongest Self. Learning to recognize your old patterns as small parts of a much larger self is the first essential step toward transformative change.
The practice of observing your thoughts, feelings, and impulses awakens your higher brain to be conscious of lower brain automatic reactions and to exercise its executive ability to choose how to act. By observing your thoughts, behavior, and moods, you gain some needed distance and time to choose actions that are congruent with your values and consistent with who you wish to become. This process also changes the structure of your brain, making it more flexible and adaptable as you add more neural connections between your executive organizing functions and your ancestral brains.
The practice of meditation works in a similar way. You notice your thoughts and impulses as they arise, and you become aware that a part of you is always calmly observing. As you shift your sense of self into the perspective of that observer, you are less likely to be pulled into distracting thoughts or reactive impulses. Distractions such as the familiar bells of the ice-cream truck outside your door automatically trigger your desire for ice cream, but you don't have to follow your lower brain's urge to jump up, chase after the vendor, and buy some ice cream. Instead, you can observe your thoughts and cravings, focus on your breathing, and choose to sit still. You can watch your thoughts and feelings change and fade away.
Whenever you exercise your freedom of choice, you are doing more than just passively observing. You are awakening and activating your uniquely human ability to override your initial, lower brain reactions in order to choose how to act.
Choosing to Face Your Fears
The ability to disidentify from your initial thoughts and reactions is what makes you truly human, and it only exists in your new, human brain—the prefrontal cortex whose rapid expansion has pushed the forehead into a vertical position.
As you awaken more of your uniquely human skills, you'll be able to choose to face fear rather than be controlled by it. Each time you choose to face a fear, you're preventing your mammal brain from controlling your behavior and your life. All mammals have a fear of fire, but about two million years ago our early ancestor Homo erectus learned to overcome that mammal instinct in order to harness fire for warmth and cooking. By facing a fear you've been avoiding, you break free of lower brain phobias and win a fear inoculation shot that makes you more robust against future fears and challenges. Your fear inoculation shots will break the cycle of inertia, avoidance, and guilt while increasing your momentum and motivation.
Identifying Your Five Major Problem Areas
An understanding of the architecture of the human brain is useful in coping with many of life's challenges and the five major problem areas. You can see in Figure 1.1 that the reptile brain (brain stem) is shaped like a carrot that grows up from the top of the spinal column. The old mammal brain (limbic system)—found in ancient rodents and modern cats and dogs—surrounds the reptile brain and adds to it the ability to learn and to relate within a community.
As you can see in Figure 1.2, most of the human brain is made of what looks like a piece of coral, which is about the size of a melon, that surrounds and lies atop the mammal and reptile brains. This expansion beyond the earlier brains is called the neo-cortex, or primate brain. Because our human brain is built upon—and retains many of the features of—the brains of our ancestors, the task of managing our thoughts and actions would be nearly impossible if it were not for our prefrontal cortex.
This uniquely human part of our brain, located in the front third of the neocortex, contains our essential executive organizing functions. It is this part of our brain that gives us the capacity for language, organization, planning, self-regulation, and decision making. And it was the rapid growth of the prefrontal cortex over the last two hundred thousand years that has pushed our forehead to a near-vertical position, distinguishing it from the receding forehead of apes and Neanderthals.
The five major problem areas that can be reduced or resolved by applying the Strongest Self program are:
1. stress and fear
2. inner conflict and procrastination
3. feeling overwhelmed and confused
4. self-criticism and self-blame
5. struggle and loneliness
Within just a few chapters, you'll be shifting your identity away from your symptoms and default reactions and into the perspective, roles, and voice of your Strongest Self. You'll learn to identify the specific words, worries, and physical tensions that signal the use of limited and, usually, primitive methods of coping with current life pressures and challenges. You'll minimize or remove completely the blocks that have kept you from realizing your true potential for happiness, success, and inner peace.
To begin step 1, use the following five problem areas to identify the symptoms that describe your current behavior and negative internal dialogue. Identify and check off your symptoms without self-criticism but with an appreciation that you've taken the first step to freeing yourself of old, destructive patterns.
As you proceed through this program, you'll find it easier to detach from your initial reactions and take control of them if you locate their approximate point of origin in your brain. A fear, fight-or-flight response, for example, originates in the oldest part of the brain—the reptile brain—that has existed for more than five hundred million years. You don't want to argue with a survival response that has obviously worked, but you do want to use your new, executive brain to decide when the danger has passed and when what appears to be a dangerous snake is actually a stick. While snakes were a big problem hundreds of millions of years ago, you might want to reset your old brain's default reaction so that it's more sensitive to the dangers of cars, gangs, and electricity.
Problem Area 1: Stress and Fear
Think about the feelings that arise when you are under time pressure on your job, concerned about bills and spending in your family, worried about your health or medical procedures, or criticized by your partner or family.
Examples of Symptoms
I frequently feel panicky and anxious, afraid that something awful will happen.
My ego and self-worth are always on the line (available to be judged by others) at work, in leisure activities, and in my relationships.
I try to cope with anxiety by relying on a variety of addictive habits or crutches, such as overindulging in coffee, sweets, and alcohol, and becoming dependent in my relationships.
I attempt to control others and events in the hope of av
Excerpted from Awaken Your Strongest Self by NEIL FIORE. Copyright © 2007 by Neil Fiore. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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