A brain in default

I’ve often attributed the way my brain works for my life’s successes. It’s also the most significant contributor to my failures. This is especially true in difficult life situations when instead of fostering deliberate thought, my brain allows me to fall easily into old habits of coping, or thinking without effort. It may appear as if this is a conscious decision on my part, but often it is not. From time-to-time, my brain just puts itself automatically into this “default mode” of thinking so it can help me find a mental place of safety and security. My brain does not like me to feel insecure or unsafe.

This default mode is when my brain says to itself, “Hey! I don’t like this situation. How can I change it? Hmmm….this looks sort of like that time when we…No. This is not really the same, but…..What the heck, it’s close enough. It will make us feel a little more secure. So…recall pattern. Check. Engage default operations mode. Check. And….warp speed ahead!”

When my brain calculates a success rate of at least 45% while in default mode, I assuredly will hear a voice inside my head say, “This is clearly the approach to use, dude. Go!” My brain is not naturally risk adverse.

Whether you realize it or not, this probably happens to you, too. Our brains know there are differences in every life situation, yet they work overtime to find enough parallels between some past situation and a current one to weigh the odds of a positive outcome, and then take the necessary steps to give the illusion we’re in control of the whole situation. They do all of this within a fraction of a second. That’s just how our brains roll.

We’re rarely in control and our brains are keenly aware of this fact. Our brains also know we have survived similar situations in the past and odds are good we’ll survive this one, too. It takes a lot less effort for our brains to gear down into default mode, than it does for them to power-on to figure out a better approach to the situation. Our brains can be quite lazy, too.

Our brains have adapted to these patterns and routines over a lifetime. The designated approach worked for us the first time, and then we reinforced the approach each time we let our brain move into default mode. We became comfortable with the rules and patterns our brains create while in default, so we gave them the authority and the responsibility they desires. For their parts, our brains simply see a process for a successfully resolved situation that must be stored until needed again. Our brains are big on self-defined measures of success.

My attorney friends are fond of the phrase, “It depends,” meaning even though two situations appear significantly similar, the facts of each may dictate a different approach for resolution. This is the problem with our brains in default mode—they see two highly similar situations and simply forget, or chose not to, consider all of the facts. Our brains, in default mode, rarely consider the concept of “it depends.”

Life events of the last few years have forced me to stop letting my brain go into default mode as much as before. I discovered my  brain’s margin of error on successful decision making was hovering at +/- 30 points and with a 50% success rate trigger, my odds of making any smart decisions in default mode were, let’s just say, far less than desirable.

I still consider myself a creative thinker. I still make connections with bits of unconnected information, and I still trust my intuition. The difference now is I force myself to slow down and become more deliberate in my thinking, and with my resulting actions.  My brain is working harder now, but I can tell it aches for an easier life.

Sometimes, very late at night, I can hear my brain whispering, “Dude….there’s a 47% —wait, make that 51%—chance this is the right thing to do. Want to do it?”

I listen, but I don’t respond. I no longer take such low probabilities seriously. At least, not before dawn.

___

Photo Credit::okay, this is, like bad? by Robert Couse-Baker

About the author

David Harkins

It’s A Process features the personal essays, fiction, and poetry of David Harkins, who endeavors to make sense of the chaos around him through the thoughtful telling of stories in what he hopes to be an engaging and sometimes humorous manner. Don’t count too much on the latter, though.

Except where noted, the photos used on this site are © David L. Harkins.

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