I have been learning about stoicism from William B. Irvine’s lessons on the mindfulness app, Waking Up. The other day I was listening to a lesson that talked about the parts of the brain and how they evolved. It dove into this because part of stoicism, and mindfulness in general, is about working through the first two parts of your brain commonly called the “lizard brain” and “mammal brain” and getting to the “human brain” which allows for rational thinking.
For those of you not familiar with these terms, the lizard brain encompasses the brainstem, cerebellum, and hypothalamus. This is our most basic functions including the fight or flight instinct.
Next up is the mammal brain which includes the limbic system and hippocampus. These parts of the brain include memories, communication, and emotions.
Finally, we have the human part, the cerebral cortex, which governs our rational thought and higher reasoning.
Because the brain evolved with humanity, the older parts are what all new inputs go through first. Which means whenever anything happens to us, we first decide to fight or flight, then we have an emotional response, and then we can think clearly.
(At this point, I find myself questioning whether I am more in awe of the brain itself, or the evolution of the brain. Regardless, sublime.)
Back to the lesson from Dr. Irvine. He discussed how our goal as humans should be to acknowledge that each part has its own role and limits. We shouldn’t make large decisions without consulting all three. Therefore, you must ensure your thought process gets past emotions and engages the rational part of the mind.
Around this point, I started thinking about my study of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), primarily through the work of Dr. Travis Bradberry. And the connections between stoicism, mindfulness, and EQ began to appear.
- All are about managing your thoughts and emotions
- They all acknowledge the different parts of the thought process and recognize that each has merits
- The goal is not to only use one, but rather draw from each where appropriate
- They all embrace reflecting on one’s actions to improve in the future
I think we all owe ourselves a higher degree of self-awareness; therefore, I would challenge anyone reading this to dig a little deeper into whichever methodology speaks to you.
And if you have tried studying one of these and failed, that is perfectly fine. I think it took me two reads of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 to put anything into action, and my first attempt at a meditation habit was a failure. And who is to say whether stoicism will have a lasting impact on me?
The point is, that something will eventually click, and you will be better off for it. Good luck!