Goal = Body-Brain Alignment
Objective: Rational Thinking
Process: Boundary Management
In order to maintain good mental health and optimal functioning, we need to maintain Body-Brain Alignment.
The Body is our earthly Survival Vehicle (SV). The SV operates to maintain our safety by using its instinctual abilities (usually beyond our awareness), including the use of feelings, both physical and emotional. Our body protects us (the Brain) by sending feeling signals to the Brain, which the Brain interprets and uses its learned capabilities to Take Action. That is Rational Thinking and communicating.
In order to recognize Rational Thinking (RT), we must understand Irrational Thinking, which is at the other end of the spectrum of Rational Thinking, and what I term Neurotic Thinking (NT), which encompasses thinking based on irrational fears and anxieties. In other words, that negative thinking with which each of us is familiar and which triggers severe depression, anxiety and other mental health symptoms (the purpose of which is to get us to focus on Rational Thinking). So, at one end of the spectrum is NT and at the other end of the spectrum is RT. Rational Thinking and communicating involve the body transmitting Feelings to the Brain, the Brain interpreting the Feelings, and the Brain Taking Action.The way I picture this is that on the right side of my forehead is a square box with the symbol “RT” and which my goal is to direct all of my thinking through that box 24/7. On the left side of my forehead is a square box containing the symbol “NT” which I want to avoid 24/7. I must monitor my thinking at all times (especially when I am alone) to ensure that my thinking is RT. When I notice that my thinking is emanating from the NT box, my task is to immediately direct my thinking to the RT box. But how do I accomplish that?
The method for maintaining thinking in the RT box is to “Focus Outward” (FO) consciously and deliberately, and intently enough so that NT fades to the background. Remember that NT is at the other end of the Thinking Spectrum and cannot be eliminated. But as humans, we have the innate ability to control and manage our thinking and can always Focus Outward. While it may seem difficult at first, because we have been raised not understanding the dichotomy of our thinking, we must diligently practice this method of thinking control until it becomes second-nature, at which point, staying in the RT Box becomes an easy, interesting and thoughtful practice that opens up our understanding of the Body-Brain survival phenomenon and allows us to consider how to think and respond by recognizing, interpreting, understanding, and responding accurately and appropriately to our feelings, which opens us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and others.
I say “Body-Brain” Alignment, even though the term “Mind-Body” Alignment is the term we most commonly hear, possibly because as we are taught to think and communicate by the previous generation, we come to believe that “we” are our mind and that “we” control everything about our body, except for our body’s automatic processes like appetite, feelings, digestion, illness, wellness, etc. But, certainly we control our thinking! (except for our “negative” thinking).
In this model, we do control our thinking by understanding and responding to our body’s signals. Thus, the body instinctively interacts with the environment using instinctual feelings, both physical and emotional. The brain interprets the feelings and takes the appropriate action. That is maintaining proper Body-Brain alignment.
The Brain cannot control the Body. When there is a conflict, the Body always wins. The Body is our instinctual survival vehicle! It instinctively knows how to survive. The Brain is our CPU. It is Us. It is learning the lessons of life by riding around on the SV and, hopefully, learning to enjoy the pleasures and joys of life with minimal lessons (which, unfortunately, we are also not taught and must learn for ourselves). It is the Brain’s (our thinking center) job to recognize misalignment and get back into alignment with the Body. The Body is never going to get into alignment with the Brain. The Body is our instinctual survival vehicle and does not “think.” The Brain “thinks,” Therefore the Brain must always strive for proper Body-Brain alignment. For example, try dieting! We know that “most” diets only work for a short time. We cannot understand why we cannot maintain the “ideal” weight that we think we must achieve. With quitting smoking (and other chemicals, including alcohol, sugar, and man-made addictive “snacks”) we always “fall back” into the “habit.” That is because the “habit” or “addiction” has sabotaged our Body-Brain communication connection.
A habit is our body’s preference or addiction. When it becomes habituated or addicted, it is no longer RT vs. NT. It now becomes RT vs. AT (Addiction) vs. NT. Addiction becomes the first way of thinking. So, it would look something like this:
When the body is addicted and experiences the “trigger” feeling in response to some environmental activity, rather than interpreting the feeling rationally and taking appropriate action, it goes straight for the addiction, which now takes the place of RT. You can imagine a habit, such as the time you eat lunch; everyday, your stomach starts rumbling at lunch time. That is your body telling you it’s hungry. Or, imagine the alcoholic thinking about that drink in response to almost any ordinary stressful feeling, or the drug addict, or any other habit or addiction.
An addiction is life-long, and because the body sees the addiction as “normal” it will go for that response every time. That is what we think of as “addictive thinking” even when we are not actively engaging in the addiction. It is the body “craving” the addiction behavior and telling the brain, “I want my….” And which it is why we find it so hard to break a habit or control an addiction.
So, How do we do it?
Little steps. We already know that the Brain does not control the Body; the Body controls the Brain. How can we intervene, then? As in everything in life, we always learn and eventually become accomplished by beginning at the beginning and taking each small step until we learn everything we have the capacity to learn. It is the same with habits and addictions. We take very small, minute steps to let the Body adjust gradually to the change that the Brain is attempting. As we take the small steps, the Body will become more comfortable. With drugs or alcohol, for example, we can decrease the amount of the substance minutely each day, in a way that the Body hardly feels the difference, until we are completely abstinent. This may take years.
Other methods of eliminating habits or addictions include support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, wherein the object is to eliminate the habit or addictive behavior immediately or, “cold turkey,” and utilize the group experience for support while the Body goes through withdrawal, which is, simply, the Body increasing the intensity of the signal to the Brain until the Brain “gives in.” That is what is commonly known as “relapse,” which is considered a normal component of addiction and why support groups are usually needed for life. Sometimes, just to save a marriage and other family relationships and employment, Cold Turkey is the only way to go. The thing to understand, though, is the process of habituation and addictive behavior and not allow it to happen in the first place. By controlling our habits and substances early on, we can learn to enjoy them for life, or as long as we want.
To summarize, in order to function optimally, we need to maintain equal Body-Brain alignment. We accomplish that by focusing on our body’s “gut” feelings (all feelings are gut feelings), interpreting them accurately, and Taking Action. When we do this we will maintain Body-Brain alignment because it entails Rational Thinking and Rational Action.Copyright James Benedick©