Feb 252015


I was struggling in my neurobiology mini-course.  (Huh??? Yeah.)  I couldn’t “get” one of the key concepts about the structure of the human brain  — until the instructor threw me a game-changing lifeline.  She told me to picture an orange.

What do oranges have to do with brains?  I can tell you from personal experience, they make a great stand-in when someone is desperate to add another tool to her toolbox.

At the time I was working with addicts in early recovery. Most of my group members were frustrated to find the majority of their first impulses were destructive in nature. They were in a desperate race to develop new decision-making skills before encountering the next bad boyfriend or the “one time” drug deal “just to pay the rent.”  I was beyond delighted with a “eureka!” I could pass along.

It didn’t hurt that one of my groups was required for all the residents and took place in the only place large enough to hold them:  the cafeteria.  Fifty-some women thought I’d completely lost my mind when I grabbed an orange from the fruit bowl during the classroom part of the session — until I repeated what the neurobiologist had shared:

Let the yummy, edible part represent the “unconscious,” automatic parts of the human brain. The orange skin is like a cerebral cortex, the uniquely human part where rationality and reasonableness live.  See?  The  part of the brain that can “talk us down” is not only much newer than the part that can get so freaked out, it’s also much smaller.

Primitive?  Yes.  Practical and useful?  Absolutely.  It made sense to my clients, too.  The “less conscious” part of the brain is big.  And smart.  Very smart. It automates. And sometimes that’s a very good thing.

In your day-to-day life (or your business) automating certain activities and building good habits leaves focus and energy for activities requiring both your full attention and the “smart part” of your brain.  Whether you set up the coffee pot before you go to bed at night or always wipe down the shelves in the refrigerator before grocery shopping, most of our lives are full of time- and consciousness-saving patterns and habits. Can you imagine what it would be like to approach your morning coffee as if it were a first time experience? Every day? Or if you had to concentrate on every eye blink and every breath?  Yikes!

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Automation conserves space in the “thinky” parts of the brain — but it doesn’t know how to discriminate between good habits and bad.  No wonder we have to work so hard to become fully aware of a behavior or thought habit we want to change.

Moving it from the orange to the peel lets us go after it with ZEST! (And laughing about change makes it a whole lot easier.)


 February 25, 2015  Posted by  Inner Critic, Thinking 8 Responses »