Take advantage of your brain’s secret superpower

permissionAs 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.

super brainSo 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.

Is your ‘Secret Garden’ secretly killing you?

fat woman eatingSo many of us live double lives. I don’t just mean having a young filly or a well hung, obedient boy toy shacked up across town. I’m talking about your Secret Garden. You know, the private place you escape to when the world gets too loud and needy or we reach a Tetris tipping point. We all have our own version of ‘Me Time’, but often what begins as a safe sanctuary slowly de-evolves into a dangerous, even lethal, prison. One day you look up and the walls of your Secret Garden are too high to climb and you’re trapped as a slave to your glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls.

Feeling all high and mighty watching a Youtube obesity documentary while picking at a plate of asparagus on my lunch break, I was suddenly blindsided by an embarrassing parallel. The woman on screen had bustled her kids off to school, tidied up, put in a load of laundry, and then – efficiencies done – took a plastic grocery bag full of chocolate bars out of a hidden cupboard and proceeded to devour the entire gluttonous mess in a highly ritualized performance.

“This is ME-TIME,” she declared to the camera, almost as a threat. Woe-betide the fool who would dare try and rob her of this one true, loyal pleasure!

“Oh shit,” I said to myself, “do I really do the same freakin’ thing?!”

Of course, just like most of us, but my Secret Garden involved getting drunk and stoned watching old online episodes of Antiques Roadshow on a tiny netbook in my kichen while sitting on one of those horribly uncomfortable 1970s plywood stacking chairs. Grim. But how had this happened? I was in love, full of potential, with all joints as yet in working order. How had this sad, rather tragic scene become my be-all-end-all?

Genetics and circumstances dictate our unique set of personal glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls. These behaviours and externals are what we feel make our lives worth living. Some lucky bastards are coded to respond to running and quinoa, while others get off on fries or affairs. Stress, biochemistry, and trauma can make the brain more vulnerable to adopting extreme, often dangerous, glamours (eg: cutting and drugs) because these behaviours provide an immediate and seductively efficient neurotransmitter reaction. Tolerance develops over time and before you know it you’re either 500 pounds or base jumping!

Just like yours, my Secret Garden had been planted with all innocence – just like the one in Burnett’s classic children’s novel (a personal fave!). I made my own clothes and acted out heroic stories in the backyard – happy as a clam! Then life happened and somehow I ended up on that stupid hard-ass chair!

Be honest. What does your Secret Garden grow? Because whatever you think you want, whatever you think your dreams and goals may be… here’s the truth: your unconscious, primative mind is, at this very moment, concentrating all its energy and effort on the simple goal of getting you into that garden and keeping you there.

But we’re not children anymore. Once we acknowledge our current glamours, insatiables, and be-all-end-alls, and accept them with unrelenting compassion, we can begin to pre-train new ones and eventually switch over more permanently. Click here to read about how the relationship between your efficiencies and indulgences can help reveal (and even begin training!) new personal glamours.