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The Prefrontal Cortex (aka the Overthinking Mind)

Feb 08, 2022

Most of us know we think too much. Our minds spin all day, every day. We think about everything: the weather, covid, money, our looks, our friends, our relationships, our regrets, the future. Have you noticed the list is endless? Have you noticed that the mind doesn’t stop its chatter?


This can be exhausting! We all experience it. What the heck do we do?


Meditate, journal, yoga, exercise- what do we do?


Let’s go back to basics and understand the human brain for a second. We divide up the brain into three main functions: (This is not anatomically correct, but gives us an idea of how our brain is set up):

  1. Reptilian Brain – this part of our brain is responsible for our heart rate, breathing rate etc. This part of our brain keeps us alive and functioning without us having to think.
  2. Mammalian brain – aka the limbic system. This part of our brain keeps us safe and triggers our fight/flight or freeze mode. They say we spend a lot of our day here – if we do not do some personal work on ourselves. It is said that 95% of adult actions and behaviours are actually from here!
  3. Prefrontal cortex- this part of our brain is the thinking, analytical brain. It is what helps us make a conscious choice. This engages in problem-solving and higher learning.


The thing about it, as a human, we may not know it, but our limbic system/mammalian brain is running the show. Most of us are in a small degree of fight or flight all the time.


As a result of this, a default for humans is to over-think. We analyze, judge, and try to figure out things!


It is also why we can’t seem to settle down and just do the gratitude list and get happy. We are wired from our childhood/our subconscious to be on hyperalert.

So, what do we do?

We must be willing to work with the prefrontal cortex. Here are some tried and tested strategies that work:

1) Get general. What does that mean? We all think so specifically. We are in constant figure-out mode.  A general thought is - I’m a tall woman with dark hair. A specific thought is - I’m a five-foot, six inches height woman with black hair and a few grey streaks. I have three thousand black hairs and one hundred white hairs.

The more specific our thoughts are – the faster the momentum of our thinking. The more general our thinking, we slow down momentum. This can be a game-changer for the overthinking / over-analytical mind.

Try for an hour or a day to ONLY let yourself think GENERAL thoughts. You will find magic and start to feel better. Remember – the prefrontal cortex is powerful, but until you slow it down, you cannot heal the limbic system which is where the magic of coaching lies!


2) Telling yourself there is nothing to figure out! We live in a society where everything needs to be figured out yesterday. What if you told yourself: there is nothing to figure out? What if you said: I don’t need to think about that now? This can be magical!


3) After practicing steps 1 and 2 – you can add appreciation. You can re-direct your prefrontal cortex- by simply starting to appreciate things. Appreciate the sun, the animals, the trees, the windows. Simple appreciation changes everything!

 

Try this out and watch out for my next blog…