The void is being in love with two men, two stories, two promises. One glows with the promised flush of that first hot thrust. Immediate gratification. The other tantalizes with the promise of a full to bursting future, but it’s a happily ever after that pulls further away with every desperate reach from within the void. Because while your brain chemistry adjusts to reward a new set of attentions, and you progress towards real change, there is no way to ignore that first lover’s little whisper in your ear… “I swear,” it teases, titillates, “this will be the last time.” Continue reading
As children, we sought it outside of ourselves, challenged its boundaries, and submitted our viable worlds to be ordered according to its precedent. What is it? Permission. But we’re not little kids any more. In Blank Canvas Living’s exploration of learning to live with the brain, not for the brain, personalizing our permissions is one of our most powerful cognitive conceptual tools.
What is permission? Permission is a biological event. Let’s think about the brain. Without getting too technical here, permission can be loosely defined as the activation of neural pathways through the release of neurotransmitters in response to a stimulus. OK, now that that’s out of the way…
Permissions build our physical, emotional, moral, and social realities. We learn the boundaries and expectations of our viable worlds through external permissions (verbal, non-verbal) which are internally translated into supporting circuitry. This is a lifelong process, but most concentrated during childhood, before the brain starts pruning back unnecessary conceptual flexibilities. Example: A mother patiently teaches her child that dogs are brown and grass is green while cozying up together over a colouring book. A darling scene, sure, but equally grotesque in its neurological ramifications – the loss of our virginity of perception. Shedding a little tear here… sniffle.
So how is permission a superpower? This is going to blow your mind… ZOOM POW SPLAT! A paralysed woman in a wheelchair in British Colombia scores highest on a national happiness survey. Everyday she wakes up with a brain flooded with neurotransmitters that colour her reality full of hope and possibility. Why? She has permission (remember the biology!). An Oxford philosophy honours student hangs herself after a bad breakup. Why? Her depression gave her neurological permission to live, and ultimately die, in a threatening and hopeless world. When used as a cognitive conceptual tool, permission can offer a glimpse into different realities. And once that door is open, you can step inside.
How to play with your permissions to personalize your viable world:
1- Evaluate your current permissions. This might surprise you. Example: You take a drink after work to relax. Yes, your brain is asking for an external, because that’s where it’s learned the Pavlov progression starts, but did you know you get a dopamine surge even before ingestion? Your brain is, essentially, already giving you full permission to enter a relaxed system state and live in a warm, fuzzy, blameless world. It’s only the mechanism (the glamour) for getting there that’s in question.
2- What world would best suit your genetic self? What permissions would that world give to someone living in it? What permissions would that person give themselves? What permissions would be damaging? Examples: Permission to be accountable to others in order to live in a world where others are accountable to us. Permission to indulge in loving, gentle self-talk in order to live in a world where we have value and safety.
3- Once you define a permission you’d like to adopt for yourself, you’ve got to ask the big question: what is the precedent for this permission? Are there people out there right now living with this permission? Are they successfully achieving their personal goals? Are they mentally healthy and happy? How do their viable worlds differ from my own? Example: Since the paralysed woman in the wheelchair has full permission to be happy, why the hell should your loaded inbox give you permission to be miserable? Seriously, think about it.
So before you light your next cigarette, accept that this is only the mechanism (the current glamour), and that your brain is already giving you permission to leave your desk and take 7 minutes of pure indulgent escape. F*ck the cigarette! Own those 7 minutes of bliss within your own body. Take a breath – clean, pure. Be fully, apologetically, your own permission.
We process the world through pattern. Our brains filter the sensory madness of our culture through ever narrowing channels of meaning and importance. But let’s be honest, whatever your program of associations, all patterns end in either sex or death. Sex extends our genetics through time and is the only motivator on par with avoidance of death – the eventual, inevitable endgame to all sequences of decisions.
I’m paralyzed in the toothpaste aisle. I feel my temperature rising, my palms getting sweaty. Why the hell does my amygdala have to get involved! It’s just f*&^king toothpaste! The eternal struggle: buy my ‘usual’ and save myself some cognitive calories, or engage in a complex multi-variable algorithm steeped in conflict between conscious and unconscious influences and motivations. Do I want short term gains like fresh breath and whitening? Both driven by the ever tempting promise of getting laid. Or do I go for long term investment with tartar control, enamel repair, and preventing gingivitis (the villain in so many bacteria-in-the-bloodstream early death horror stories!)? Then there are the ‘do it all have it all’ formulas, the ‘full-time working mothers’ of oral hygiene. But like Sheryl Sandberg, I’m suspicious there’s some unspoken compromise that just might result in a root canal somewhere down the line. I grew up using Colgate… its red is so soothingly familiar… but ProNamel’s packaging looks so reassuringly clinical… and Aquafresh has… Oh for heavens sake!!
Pavlov’s dogs were trained to salivate at the ringing of a bell, but his subjects would often begin to drool far earlier in the experimental sequence: approaching the experimental apparatus, when lab assistants entered the room, etc. Our own programming wakes with us in the morning and maps the day into expectations and associations. Our circuitry can be as rigid as rail lines, and neuroplasticity involves the same taxing bureaucratic nightmare of time, energy, and ego as engineering Calgary’s West LRT line. Change is hell. With sex or death being their axiomed ends, we must confront our patterns at their beginnings, especially ones as powerful as those involving ‘the paradox of choice’.
I should have visualized a game plan and anticipated my distress. It’s too late by the time I’m standing here feeling like an idiot for being so overwhelmed by freakin’ toothpaste! At this point, metacognition is my only hope. I calm my breathing and my head begins to clear. My prefrontal cortex takes charge. “What’s the worst case scenario,” I ask myself. It’s just toothpaste! And four magic words follow the analysis: “I can handle it.” I engage a new pattern and apply the retail version of my good-girl-bad-girl personal philosophy, and come home with two tubes – ProNamel and Aquafresh – and ‘spit’ my time between. What can I say? I’m now a proud personal hygiene polygamist (but hopefully not “till death do us part”)!