Why We Show Up The Way We Do

Brain ray
Now, you may be saying; “I know why I show up the way I do. I made some great decisions and some wonderful choices in my life. Some not so great and wonderful but it was a conscious effort on my part. I made me who I am today.” Well, not exactly, as you will soon see.

Of course, we all show up differently, largely due to our thoughts, opinions and beliefs about ourselves and our environment. If I believe I am not a good public speaker it may have an impact on my personality. I may show up shy, anxious and not able to express myself fully. But where do these beliefs come from?

The past thirty years have yielded some extraordinary findings in the area of neuroscience. One of those findings deals with our memory. We have two types of memory, implicit and explicit. Explicit memory is what we all think of when we think of memory. It has the quality of recalling events of our life in time. For example, most of us will remember when we learned to ride a bicycle for the first time. Implicit memory is how you know how to ride a bicycle. There is no recall ability. It is just who you are. Rick Hanson, author of “Buddha’s Brain” describes it like this, “Implicit memory is how it feels to be you.” How it feels to be you is the source of your beliefs.

Now, this is where it gets really cool because in the past this information has lived in the realm of metaphysics and philosophy. Not that that’s a bad thing but now we know how this actually works in our brains! The little seahorse-shaped organ in the limbic area of our brain is called the hippocampus. The hippocampus is needed to encode our experiences into explicit memory. However, it is not fully developed until about the age of 5 or 6 which accounts for why most of us cannot recall events of our lives prior to that.

I want to share a story with you that will help to crystallize this quality of implicit memory. In 19
th century France was a neurologist, Dr. Clafard, who had a patient with an unfortunate condition. Madame X had a lesion near her hippocampus, which prevented her hippocampus from encoding experience to explicit memory. Every time she visited Dr. Clafard they would have to reintroduce themselves. Even if he left the room for a few minutes she would not recognize him or remember their conversation. One day upon her arrival, Dr. Clafard placed a pin in his hand and when Madame X extended her hand to shake his she got pricked. Upon her next visit the doctor extended his hand again but this time Madame X pulled back and when she was asked what was wrong she replied, “Sometimes doctors do things that hurt you.” This is a very interesting mental model. “Sometimes doctors do things that hurt you” lived for here like a fully conscience belief that I am sure she would have defended vehemently. But its origins were not accessible to her awareness.

We all have similar mental models that filter our perceptions and prejudge our experiences. Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of, “Mindsight; The New Science Of Personal Transformation” says,  “Our implicit models can manifest as a feeling in our bodies, an emotional reaction, a perceptual bias in our mind’s eye, or a behavioral pattern of response. We do not realize we are being biased by the past; we may feel with conviction that our beliefs and reactions are based on our present good judgment.”

Say, for example, you were raised in a family where money was tight. Your parents may have had conversations about how difficult it was to get money, that money is the root of all evil, money corrupts good people, the middle class always gets screwed. The experience of your parents in those times may have created implicit memories that became your operating system or “how it feels to be you” about how you relate to money today and you may think your actions are based on your present good judgement!

Now, the other cool part of this is: What we practice we become good at. When we practice the piano for example, we are literally creating neuro-pathways in our brains. The more we practice, the bigger those pathways become and consequently the easier it is to play the piano. Science now knows that what we believe to be true about ourselves and our environment is what determines our actions. As we perform those actions over and over (or “practice” them) we get really good at them and we build strong neuro-pathways that support “how it feels to be us.”

In a nutshell: There are 2 types of memory, implicit and explicit. Implicit memory is how it feels to be you and is the source of your beliefs. Your beliefs generate your thoughts and opinions. Your thoughts, opinions and beliefs motivate you into action. As you practice those actions you literally create the architecture of your brain by building neuro-pathways, which has you show up as you do in life.

I know this is an oversimplification of a very complex subject and if you would like to know more in-depth information I recommend, “Mindsight; The New Science Of Personal Transformation” by Dr. Daniel Siegel and "Buddha's Brain" by Rick Hanson.