So, the brain will prioritize difficult information, because over the course of our evolution, that is the kind of data that kept us safe and alive. The problem is that at this point in our evolution we now have a prefrontal cortex, our so-called “thinking brain,” which spends a lot of time engaged in higher functions, such as thinking about thinking, so it is constantly engaged in internal conversations with itself. That means that at any given time the prefrontal cortex is only giving minimal consideration—only about 10% of its attention—to what is going on in the world around us in the here and now. The other 90% of the meaning of this present moment is being defined by our past—a process that is often controlled by Amy—my name for the amygdalae of our brains.
The number one job of your brain is to keep you alive, and that is why your brain is constantly on the lookout for difficult, painful stimuli just in case there is something out there with the potential to hurt you. If your brain has encoded difficult, stressful, or traumatic experiences then it will tag more experiences in the present as being a threat. This higher level of salience—a stronger filter for that type of information—can lead us into anxiety, depression, PTSD, low mood, stress, burnout, and much more.
When you find yourself ruminating on difficult thoughts, feelings, emotions, and painful conversations, that’s your brain telling you that whatever is happening is important and you need to pay attention to it. So, how do you help your brain let that stuff from the past go and heal that filter, so your system knows that right here, right now, it doesn’t need to be tagging this present data with painful stimuli and inappropriate salience?