from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

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“Have you ever wondered why we have toenails? I mean, don’t they seem rather useless?”

~ Bill Crawford

What Toenails Tell Us About The Brain!

“Have you ever wondered why we have toenails? I mean, don’t they seem rather useless?”

The answer is because at one time in our evolution, they were used to grasp things much like our fingernails still do today. However now, they are rather useless, and, in fact, if left unattended, can grow to the point where they impair our ability to walk and get us where we want to go.

What does this have to do with the brain? Well, our brain also is a product of our evolution, and much like our toenails, there are parts of our brain that are functioning much in the same way they did in the past, which can impair our ability to get where we want to go and create the life we want.

Take the limbic system, for example, (what some people call the middle brain). While not as useless as toenails, this middle part of the brain is often still functioning in a way that is more relevant to our past than our future. For example, in our past, we were constantly in danger of being harmed either by the animals we were hunting or the people we fought for territory or status within a tribe. In this hostile environment, the hyper-alert limbic system was most helpful because we were often called upon to either fight something or someone, or run away, and rarely did we have time to sit and contemplate this decision. To survive, we had to react without thinking, and the limbic system played a vital role in this reactive way of life.

Today, however, we are rarely in situations that call for a fight-or-flight reaction, but just like toenails, the limbic system is still playing its evolutionary role of triggering emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger, fear, etc., which throws us into the lower reactive brain (the brainstem). Unfortunately, this only makes the original trigger situation (difficult people or situations) seem more threatening, which re-engages the limbic system triggering another brainstem reaction, and we become trapped in a cycle of stress, frustration, anger, and anxiety.

In other words, our limbic system hasn’t caught up with the times, and is literally, making us react in ways that may have served us in the past, but are getting in the way of our happiness and success today.

So, what can we do about this? We must take on the task of retraining this part of the brain so that it doesn’t interpret difficult people and/or situations as dangerous, but, instead, allows us to access the clarity, confidence, and creativity so necessary for success in today’s world. For example, do we really want to get furious with the driver that seems to be holding up traffic, or do we want to minimize that person’s ability to control how we feel? Do we really want to become anxious when we face a challenge, or access the interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and wisdom that will allow us to succeed? Do we really want to become angry with the people who mean the most to us, or do we want to engage them in a way that resolves the problem and creates a family where love is the energy that dominates our interactions?

Unfortunately, If we leave it up to the unconscious limbic system, anger, stress, frustration, and resentment will continue to be our default positions in many situations, because this is how it has learned to survive. It errs on the side of interpreting life as dangerous and trigging the lower reactive brain, while bypassing the neocortex (the part of the brain where we make our more purposeful decisions). Therefore, just like our ability to trim (and maybe even paint) our toenails so that they function as a part of the life we want to create today, so can we begin to train the limbic system to interpret life as a place to define who we are in a way we would teach to those we love.

The choice is ours. I say we use the powerful executive functions of our brain (what I call “The Top of the Mind”) and make more purposeful choices with regard to who we are, how we respond to life so that people we don’t know no longer upset us, and anxiety no longer paralyzes us and has us shrinking from challenges, and we no longer take our anger out on the people who mean the most to us.

If you would like to see this happen in your life, go to my website (www.BillCrawfordPhD.com) and hit the contact button. Showing people the science behind our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and giving people a step-by-step model to becoming more influential in their experience of life is what I love to do, and I would love to share my system for making this happen with you and/or your organization.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as trimming our toenails, but it is achievable, and once achieved, this new way of life makes the effort more than worth the investment of time and resources. I look forward to helping you train your brain to meet the challenges of the 21st century and to pass this skill along to those you love.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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