The automatic brain always defaults to the worst-case scenario. This is an automatic, evolutionary instinct developed, over a few hundred thousand years, to protect us from pain and suffering—in other words, from the worst-case scenario of any situation. A few hundred thousand years seems like a very long time. So let’s see how this has played out in terms of our lifetime.

The Yiddish term, kinehora means “curse in reverse.” For example, you might say, “Wow, I really did great in that interview! I’m sure I’ll get that job.” Someone who hears this might reply, “Kinehora” (unless, of course, they were going for the same position!). Kinehora is supposed to reverse the chance of the worst-case scenario from occurring—and cancel out the negative that will surely happen when you are so confident and optimistic. The Spanish word ojalá conveys a similar wish, as does knocking on wood.

Many of us have become quite savvy to this law of the automatic brain (AB) universe—that since good inevitably leads to bad, then one should take a negative position first in order for a positive outcome to occur later. You see this with baseball fans who declare, “He’s a sure out,” secretly hoping that their negative talk will somehow cause their team’s player to hit the game-winning home run. (Come on, I know you do this. You can’t fool this Boston Red Sox fan!) Or football fans who, when their team’s opponent is going for a field goal, say, “He never misses.” Or, if their team is kicking, “He always chokes.” The “reverse jinx” is very familiar to us sports aficionados!

The other day, a patient mentioned that as a boy the laughing, playing, and general noisemaking from him and his siblings sometimes prompted his mom to warn, “Too much laugh turns to cry!” It’s another example of that powerful tendency of the protective AB: Default to the negative, the worst-case scenario, to better prepare us for when that proverbial other shoe will drop. Believing, trusting, and taking direction from such a negative urging certainly will not make us better prepared for even the worst-case scenario.

Still, it can be very easy to believe that the happiness we currently enjoy might be making us more vulnerable and therefore open for bad things to come. My patient’s mother helped shape her children’s ABs by exposing the nefarious workings of her own AB. Her AB’s message to her kids: If you are happy and things are going well, something is bound to make you cry.

Good things actually appear dangerous to the AB and therefore trigger it. Triggering this primitive brain leads us to fight or flee the good to protect us from the perceived grave danger. But do you feel better armed against actual danger when you flee to where this brain leads you? Are you more protected when your AB’s default switch automatically flips to the negative and gets you to focus on the negative? Does that protect you from the things that could actually hurt you and make you more vulnerable?

It often seems that our schools focus on students’ weaknesses, rather than playing up their strengths. The aphorism uttered by many educators—“You can be anything you want to be!”—is not really honest. When I was younger I wanted to be in the Olympics. Although I loved sports and was a pretty fast runner, there was never a chance that I would be good enough to compete in the Olympics. Our AB directs us to look at those who are strong in areas in which we are not, and we end up trying to live up to an impossible standard. (Another principle of the AB is not to be outdone by anyone else.)

The aphorism would be more accurate if stated, “You can achieve your goals if you identify your individual strengths and persevere to build on them.” When you focus on your strengths, you see that even your weaknesses—which have probably defined you all your life—are not really weaknesses at all. I’ve often said that vulnerability is my greatest asset. I used to think that my greatest weakness was my robust AB. But it has turned into a huge asset for me, as well as for others who have followed my messages. Another of my supposed weaknesses—wanting to be a doctor (my high school advisor suggested I not try for this field)—eventually became a major strength.

To nurture your mind, stop your AB from draining your true potential. Realize that all self-deprecating thoughts are generated by your AB to fight or flee a fake danger. The default to the negative will slow once you begin to embrace your strengths and stop looking at others to measure yourself and how your life should be.

Obsessing on the news nurtures your AB and reinforces brain drain. The recent natural disaster in Haiti has created more data to which your AB will turn, now and in the future, to drag you away from good things. How dare you be happy when so many people are suffering? To nurture your mind and unleash your true potential and, for some, connect with spirituality, do not dwell on the news of this tragedy. Continue to live your life in a happy, mindful way and I guarantee you that the news you need to hear will come to you. You will be better prepared to act in a way that is right for you and right for others (including the victims of this horrific tragedy).

So this week, think about how your AB defaults to negative areas when things are going well. Understand that what is good, what makes you happy, what inspires confidence is not dangerous. Resist looking to others’ strengths, but instead recognize your own. Focus on your special, unique, individual qualities. You have them—everyone does, just as everyone has an automatic brain and a mind. If you are feeling good and your AB directs you to watch the news because you want to be more sensitive to another’s pain, realize that you will be more sensitive to that pain by not watching the news. And when you’re watching TV sports, try not believing that you have the power to negatively or positively influence the outcome of the game by switching the channel at a crucial point). By doing this you will have taken one step closer to stopping your personal brain drain.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Glassman is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Brain Drain - the definitive guide to connecting mind, body, and spirit.
With his book, private practice, internet radio show, public appearances, weekly message and newsletter, hundreds of articles, and Coach MD, Dr. Glassman can show you what he has shown thousands of others: how to live a healthier, successful, and more abundant life.
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