13 Sep “FEED ME!” Said the Brain
Moss Jackson, PhD
Remember the play and movie “Little Shop of Horrors”? It was a story, in part, about a plant that could talk to its caretaker. Its basic message to him was “Feed Me!” It had a taste for blood in any form, i.e., reptile, fish or amphibian. Over time it developed a strong appetite for mammals, especially humans.
Like this plant, with its constant desire for food, our brains are also hungry for certain foods and they become agitated when not fed and nurtured regularly.
On a basic, physiological level, your brain needs to be taken care of through nutritious food and sleep. On another level, your brain requires three distinct resources to keep it satisfied, healthy and vital. Your brain needs Power, Connection and Safety. When fed on a consistent basis with these three psychological resources, the brain thrives, regenerates and grows stronger. When chronically deprived, however, the brain grows weaker and creates inner tension through the release of potentially harmful hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol. There is also a reduction in neurogenesis, the reproduction of new nerve cells. Basically, your brain begins to shrink and wither!
These three resources correspond to three different brain areas. All of us have three distinct brains that have evolved through the past four hundred million years. There is the Thinking Brain, the Emotional Brain and the Survival Brain. Your Thinking Brain craves Power, while the Emotional Brain seeks Connection and the Survival Brain craves Safety.
Brain Power comes from curiosity, inquiry, thought, problem solving, creativity and imagination and it is cultivated by taking on new challenges and being open to new ideas. When these Power tasks are performed on a daily basis, the neural connections in your Thinking Brain get thicker, more coordinated and interactive. This part of your total brain actually gets bigger and more powerful through strengthened neural connections. The more you use it, the more it thrives and grows. You could think of this brain as a Computer which requires consistent upgrading and use to function at its highest capacity.
Brain Connection for your Emotional Brain is fed through relationships with others, compassion, caring, empathy, helpfulness and generosity, physical contact, eye contact, smiling and attentive listening. Such actions feed the Emotional Brain, resulting in that brain area getting larger, more interactive and connected. As your Emotional Brain grows, relaxation increases, as does self-confidence, appreciation and gratitude. There is often an increase in the release of oxytocin, the “Love Hormone” which bathes your neural network in a warm and pleasant emotional marinade. Think of this brain to as though it is a Gorilla. Gorillas love to play, connect and feel good, but when deprived they can behave badly! To feed your Emotional Brain and sense of connection, try calling or texting someone you haven’t seen for a while to say “Hello”.
Finally, there is the Safety nutrient that feeds the Survival Brain. This is your oldest and most enduring brain, going back to over 400 million years. I like to call this your Alligator Brain. Its function is to keep you alive and it is constantly on the lookout for any potential danger that might harm you. When your Survival Brain is in control, you may feel a constant level of anxiety or stress as you move through the day. This is how your Survival works to keep you safe: to keep you in a constant state of vigilance. Unfortunately, the cost to you is eventual inflammation and organ breakdown in the form of heart and digestive problems, diabetes, strokes, arthritis, high blood sugar levels and various neurological disorders. These things can happen when your Alligator becomes too agitated and scared and snaps at you too much.
The way you keep this Alligator Brain feeling safe is by taking time for yourself, meditating, deep breathing, and taking time outs from work and responsibility through things like music, gardening, art and walking through a park or another scenic place. Daydreaming, expressing gratitude, and imagining pleasant experiences also quiet the Survival Brain. Massages, hugs, and singing or humming also increase the feeling of safety and well being. Try throwing away any dead plants, bringing pictures of family or friends to your office, or decorating your workspace so it looks attractive and pleasant to you. Why work in ugly and impersonal surroundings. It will only bring you down!
When your Computer, Gorilla and Alligator Brains are fed Power, Connection and Safety, they get along, interact, and work to keep you smart, happy and safe. You also become healthier, immunologically stronger and more resilient. If not fed well, however, like the plant in the movie, each part of the brain will scream “Feed Me!” and this will manifest in your behavior through mistakes and poor decisions, and you will be more likely to get emotionally stirred up and scared.
In my new book “I Didn’t Come to Say Goodbye: Navigating The Psychology Of Immortality,” I describe the above concepts more fully and present a breakthrough strategy for living a longer and healthier life.
You deserve to live an extraordinary long life of success, accomplishment and happiness. So remember to feed your plants!