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Amygdala Hijack

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

I've experienced countless frustrating moments of not being able to control my automatic reactions or direct my will. So often I get a great idea, and then pretty soon I let my fear thoughts talk me out of it. Or someone says something benign and I interpret it as offensive and then create a mess from my negative reactions.

This is called the amygdala hijack. We're going along in life, minding our business and all of a sudden, we're in fight or flight mode. We can't think clearly, we can't act rationally, and we seem to be watching ourselves act a fool unable to do anything about it.

Or can we?

There is a part of our brains called the amygdala that is the oldest part of our brain and its master is fear. It encodes the fight, flight, freeze, or please automatic self-preservation tactics. When engaged, the amygdala dumps all kinds of stress neurotransmitters into our blood stream (and glucose) and we freak out a little . . . or a lot depending on your baseline emotional charge. The result: We go on autopilot and are not able to access higher functioning thought processes like critical thinking.

The good news is you can hack your brain so that your amygdala doesn't hijack your higher cognitive functioning and destroy your progress towards the life you're building on purpose.

Method #1: W.A.I.T

This one applies mostly when we are unconsciously interpreting something happening from a perspective informed mostly by the past; Ever read a lot more into someone's actions than is actually there? This happens because over many repetitions of a negative experience, your brain has learned to anticipate attack at the early signs so as to avoid being attacked again. But so many times the sign your brain has encoded as signling an impending attack could also be a sign of a completely different outcome.

First: Stop and wait. Ask yourself:

W - What actually happened? Just provable facts here.

A - What did you assume and add to what actually happened?

I - What did you infer and interpret and add to what actually happened?

T - Take away what you assumed, inferred, interpreted, and added to what happened.

You are left with what actually happened and can interact with that instead of the fantasy your traumatized brain created.

Method #2: The 5 Second Rule

What about when you get a great idea for something you could do to solve a problem? Or an idea of something you could create to express yourself or add value to other people? But pretty soon, as you start thinking of the action steps to make it happen, your amygdala activates and hijacks your idea; your brain starts telling you all kinds of reasons you shouldn't do it, it won't be worth it anyway, or you'll end up embarrassed.

How do you hack your brain this time?

Try this.

Method #3: Aroma Freedom Technique

We all have an olfactory bulb that detects breathed-in odors and stimulates the limbic system. The first structure to receive aromatic sensations is . . . you guessed it: the amygdala. Science has demonstrated a close connection between scent and emotion. You've experienced this strong connection: you smell a scent from your childhood and suddenly your mind is transported to your grandmother's kitchen and all the emotions connected to that scene. The memory is instantly clear in your mind's eye like watching a movie.

For this reason, stimulating the sense of smell can be extremely effective at accessing negative thoughts, emotions, and memories stored in the amygdala so as to transcend them or even render them inert.

Aroma Freedom Technique is a process developed by clinical psychologist Dr. Benjamin Perkus using essential oils to stimulate the clearing of negative thought patterns and trapped emotions that keep us stuck and disconnected from our dream life. I have been spending the past few weeks learning this technique and also attended an intensive training. I have been flabbergasted by how effective it has been in helping me take leaps and bounds towards crushing my goals. And I can't wait to share it with you.

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