TWENTY ONE: The Complex Simplicities of the Brain

When does a brain get scared? When it loses it’s nerve

Another banger of a joke, I know

If you want to be specific, the brain is far more complex than a muscle. Looking at it’s cell structure alone, you can see just how much more there is to the brain compared to other muscles, for example our huge, pulsating biceps. But we’re not NERDS, so we don’t look at cell structures. I kid, I did some biology study for a test once and boy oh boy isn’t the human body both complex and fascinating?! Anyway I’m already getting off topic, stop distracting me.

Despite how complicated (and dramatic, am I right?) the brain is, it is, in a lot of ways, a muscle. To get the best out of it, it needs practice and repetition. You’re not going to remember the lyrics to We Didn’t Start The Fire without giving it a whirl a few times now, are you? And much like training ourselves to catch a ball, or learn a new language, we need to condition our brains to detect these things consciously until they become second nature. If you get good enough at something, you may find yourself saying or doing things without ever thinking about them. Let’s be real, that’s not always a good thing. How many times have you said something without thinking and wound up with your foot in your mouth?

Conditioning is a bit of a strange one. Sometimes you don’t even realise you’re learning or adopting a new behaviour until it’s become part of you, and even then we still may not even be aware of it. Sometimes it’s a good habit that your parents have encouraged from a young age, like farting at the dinner table as loudly as possible. Sometimes it’s not such a good habit, like saying please and thank you. Nonetheless, whatever it may be, it becomes a knee jerk reaction after a while.

Let me tell you about how I was conditioned.

Not two days ago, I woke up from a dream. Not a fantasy dream where I’m at the PlayBoy mansion surrounded by alllllll the gorgeous redheads I’ve ever encountered, no that was the night before. This particular dream was a memory, from my last relationship. I had woken up with that all too familiar knot in my gut, which felt way more unusual today than it did back then. Because back then I didn’t have the perspective I do now, and back then it was a feeling I had become accustomed to.

The dream took place the morning after I had been out with some work friends for a social night of bars and booze and ear-blisteringly loud music. It had been a great night, I’d had some drinks and a good laugh with some work pals, blown off some steam and stumbled home to bed. But, much like any of the other few occasions I’d ridden solo to a social gathering without my spouse, there was an argument the next day. I couldn’t even tell you the content of these arguments, but I can certainly remember how I felt waking up after a night out. I hated the feeling, so much so that I stopped accepting invitations, despite only really having nights like this once every couple of months because of work. I was conditioned to remove myself from social situations outside of my relationship off the back of associating it with one very powerful instinctive emotion. Guilt.

It makes my heart sink to look back and realise that I had been conditioned to associate independent time with friends outside of my relationship as something I should feel awful about. And it completely threw me to realise that, despite the feeling being more subtle now, that it is still an association I make. It’s something that I realised has affected my relationship with alcohol, and has also affected my ability to connect with the opposite sex in the dating world. Like a puppy that’s being taught not to pee on the carpet, I’ve been walking around with my tail between my legs without even realising it.

Two years into my life as an undeniably handsome young bachelor who is still yet to even scrape the surface of his potential, I had found myself in a position I had never before been in. For the first time in my life, I’d felt like the hopeless romantic in me had been stolen. Stolen by guilt. I’d been feeling as if the gut instinct that had lead me to express myself with big romantic gestures and picking petals of flowers to see if she loves me or not, had been unplugged.

Don’t mistaken this for a blame game, I’m never going to chastise my former spouse because there was a lot of things going on in their life that conditioned them in a lot of ways to have these responses. But at the same time, that right there is part of being in an emotionally abusive friendship or relationship. Even when you are on the receiving end, you can still find ways to justify their behaviour. For over two years, despite how the experience impacted me, I still find ways to defend it.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, in fact it’s far from it. Recognising conditioned behaviours, or identifying certain habits that hinder rather than help you, is a sign of growth and an indication that you’ve matured from your experience. This week I learned that sometimes the effects of a abuse extend beyond any kind of physical or emotional pain, sometimes it can be found in our instincts. But in the same way that you have learned those instincts, you can unlearn them. Your brain is a muscle, with enough sessions on the ol’ mental bench press, you can crush these behaviours like an empty can and throw them out (into the recycling, because the Timmunity loves planet Earth).

This week is not about feeling sad for how our past experiences may or may not have affected us, it’s about admiring that we have made it through 100% of our bad days, and continue to learn more about ourselves from the experience. Every single time you recognise and overcome a bad habit, a conditioned behaviour or when you proudly fart at the dinner table, you become 1% better at it.

The brain is a muscle, go flex that beautiful bastard.

Be patient and tough: someday this pain will be useful to you

Ovid

Mental Health

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