Why in the world does something so small have such a large impact on us?
Wondering where I’m going with this? Well, allow me to fill in the details.
Lately I’ve found myself becoming increasingly annoyed by traffic issues. I’ll give you a few examples.
There’s the time I’m turning onto a road, in a place where there are two turn lanes. The person next to me in the other lane honked at me, because apparently he didn’t understand the concept of two turn lanes, and wanted to be in my lane instead of his. Somehow, that was my fault.
Oh, and then there’s the guy at the intersection. Sure, those turning right have the right-of-way as compared to those turning left from the opposite direction. But when I’m already halfway through the intersection before you even get to it, that doesn’t mean you continue to barrel through the intersection. A little common sense might be in order here.
What probably takes the cake though is two parking violations.
First off, your emergency hazard lights are just that — for emergencies. These aren’t magical “I can park wherever the hell I want” lights. And just for your reference; no, parking in the fire lane at the store because you’re just “running in real quick to grab one thing” does not constitute an emergency.
And how about those handicap parking violators? You know, the ones who ignore the sign right in front of their face, as well as the rather large blue square painted on the ground? Yea, those assholes. How can you care so little as to ignore all of that and park there anyways?
You’re probably wondering what the point of all of this is. Just give me a second, I’m getting to it shortly…
You see, we humans have the luxury of not having a natural predator here on earth. We don’t have to constantly look over our shoulders to see if we’re being stalked by a Smilodon. But that doesn’t mean our good old fashioned fight-or-flight response has gone away. In fact, since we don’t have to worry about ole’ smiley, it actually doesn’t take too much to activate that response.
Stress activates what is known as the Sympathetic Nervous System, which in turn triggers:
- Secretion of epinephrine and norepinephrine (adrenaline/noradrenaline) which, at these dosage levels, are vaso-constrictors. It lulls blood from distal capillaries and extremities to send it to large muscles groups needed for survival (epinephrine to your arms; norepinephrine to your legs).
- As a result, your pulse rate and blood pressure increases, your breathing gets faster and more shallow.
- You also secrete corticosterioids, eventually cortisol enters your blood stream.
- As a result, besides being a natural anti-inflammatory, cortisol diminishes the functioning of your immune system and inhibits neurogenesis.
That’s all quite technical, but what it boils down to is you’re not in your right brain. Err, technically, your outer brain. We’re being controlled by our reptilian brain. We need to get back into our neocortex, the region of the brain responsible for logic and reasoning.
How do we do that? Well, unfortunately, it’s much easier said than done.
First, we need to have awareness of what’s going on. Most of the time, when we react negatively, we aren’t even aware of it until well after the fact. Think of an incident where someone cut you off. You might have cursed at them, maybe even gave them the bird. But what made you do that? Sure, some of you may well have fully known what you were doing. But some of you might have questioned yourself later — “why did I do that?” That’s awareness. You’ve got it, granted it was after the fact, but you’ve got it.
Now something interesting will happen here. The more you become aware of the awareness, the more prevalent that awareness will become. You’ll get to the point where you’re almost immediately aware of the activation of the SNS. And this will allow you to move beyond your unconscious, preconditioned response.
One of the tricks you can use is to ask yourself questions of logic. You might ask “Is this person really out to get me?” “Did they mean to do me harm by parking in the fire lane?” You’ll find that by asking yourself these questions, you’ll realize just how silly you’ve been this whole time. Then you can follow the advice of a certain popular Disney song and just “let it go.”
And if that’s just not cutting it for you, then maybe Abraham Lincoln’s trick might help some.
When Lincoln would get angry with someone because of something they may have said or done to offend him, he would write them a letter venting his anger out on paper.
However, rather than mailing the letter immediately, Lincoln would keep the letter in a draw and then look at it in a few days or weeks after his anger had passed.
When he did look at his letter, most of the time he realized that things weren’t as bad as he had initially thought, and in most cases, would end up throwing the letter away.
If we analyze Lincoln’s actions, we can see that his anger was a result of his reptilian and emotional brains.
Lincoln’s reptilian brain responded with anger, causing Lincoln to want to fight back and display his dominance, whilst his emotional brain amplified these desires by making him feel the emotions associated with anger. By writing a letter, Lincoln satisfied the needs of both these brains by venting his anger out on paper.
Later, after a period of days or weeks when Lincoln reviewed the letter (and his anger had subsided), he was then able to use his thinking logical thinking brain to critically analyze what he had written. This then allowed him to make a rational decision as to whether or not the letter should be mailed.
By delaying his actions, Lincoln ultimately satisfied the desires of all three brains. But he allowed his conscious thinking brain to make the final decision, rather than reacting impulsively and being a slave to his reptilian and emotional brains.1