Learning How To Reflect Will Save Your Life, Part 3: Don't Go It Alone


Our brains evolve in order to help us survive. 

This is why our brains are really good at looking around for threats or attaching its cognitive features to negative things. 

Why do you think it is easier to complain about something than be vulnerable and share something positive?

The common education system makes us think that we must store a whole lot of information in our heads in order to survive. That learning about every culture's ancient history will equip us with necessary skills to prolong our species. 

The problem is our brains cannot hold all of the information about the world, the universe, how everything works, how to use everything, how to construct everything, etc. 

Power of Deliberation

The book The Knowledge Illusion, by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach, examines the limits of human knowledge and learning as well as why our brains have evolved the way that they have. They discuss the difference between intuition and deliberation. Intuition is used to deduce knowledge of something instinctively from within yourself based on information from your surroundings or the way that you have become accustomed to making decisions and solving problems. 

Intuition is a quick judgment. Deliberation, however, takes more time, employs more analytical thought, and often requires some form of collaboration, even if that collaboration is in the form of talking to yourself. 

Those who respond with more deliberation to problems or questions, as the authors note, tend to be more reflective, detail oriented, and cognizant of the limitations of their knowledge. They are much more aware of what they do not know than those people who rely on intuition and snap judgment for an answer. 

Collaboration and Survival

While I mentioned how reflection helped our ancestors to more efficiently defend themselves against sabertooth tigers, Sloman and Fernbach mention how reflection and deliberation about hunting Wooly Mammoths contributes to survival. From their discussion, deliberating and collaborating with others is beneficial in three important events related to hunting a Mammoth:

  1. brainstorming different ways to effectively hunt one

  2. creating a system through which the Mammoth meat is stored and shared fairly amongst the group

  3. creating respectful expectations for living as a cohesive community 

Each of these phases present a new opportunity for huge neurological growth as well as social cognition about who knows what and how the group can work together to survive as a community. 

Collaboration and YOUR Survival

If you are experiencing any kind of emotional event or, say, anxiety, in which your brain is getting concerned for your wellbeing, reflection can help you learn about the emotional event and why you react the way that you do. 

A lot of people panic, though, and stop there because the vulnerability is too unfamiliar and they do not know how to proceed on their own. Cue the Mammoth concept. 

Get help. Collaborate. This does not mean that you have to go find a therapist, but instead it can be as simple as walking around your house talking through your reflections out loud to yourself. Hearing it out loud will externalize the thoughts in a different way than writing it down or just thinking it, and it will be almost as effective as hearing someone else speak to you.

Start with that if you are nervous about reaching out to someone. 

If you are comfortable with going beyond yourself and bolstering your odds for survival, find someone to talk to.  A friend, a family member, stranger in a coffee shop, whomever.

PRO TIP, start the conversation like this:

"Hey, I have been reflecting on something I have been going through and I wonder if I could talk it out with you."

If you want their advice, replace the second part of that with "...I wonder if I could get your take on it." 

Hint: people are always stoked to share advice, so be careful who you choose to talk to you about your vulnerable emotional material or take their advice with a grain of salt.

You will find that the dynamic of verbalizing it to someone else makes you hear your thoughts differently than when kept in your head, the person may provide relief by simply validating what you are going through and reminding you you are not alone, or they may have perspective or advice that turns around how you have been thinking about yourself. 

Cheers to your evolution.