Your brain does not know the difference between reality and imagination. How is this even possible you ask? My brain is an intelligent, intricate organism, that is the center of control for everything I think, feel, and do. Physiologically speaking, this is true, however, in reality, this may not be the case for the most part. If we were having this conversation in person, you may have jumped in by now to tell me why you believe I’m wrong. Fortunately for me, I have your attention till the end of this article, where you can leave your comments. So let’s dive in. Why have I made the bold claim that your brain isn’t as in control as you think it is?
The best way I can illustrate this is to use different examples. Think of the scariest movie you’ve ever watched. Do you remember how terrified you were? Why though? It is not as if what was happening in the movie was happening in real life. So why not just watch dispassionately? This is because your brain responds based on what you [your mind] tells it about what’s happening. So, if your mind says this is scary, your brain looks for the information associated with the scary category. Scary things are threatening. Threatening things pose danger to me. Protection from danger is needed. The fight or flight response is then activated, triggering an increase in heart rate, tensing of muscles, etc. Now, if you’re like me who does not mess with scary movies, this will definitely be your reaction. Even though you’re perfectly safe sitting on your couch or at the movies with your popcorn. Your reality and imagination do not match.
Here is another example. Think about someone you cannot stand or someone you are currently upset with. Think about what they did or what about why you find them annoying. Imagine that this person has the nerve to do or say something that crosses the line with you. Take a few minutes to play this out in your mind. How do you feel now? Okay, now I want you to take a deep breath and think of someone else. Think about someone you are very fond of. It could be a friend, crush, romantic partner, or celebrity. Imagine that person sitting next to you right now, smiling and saying nice things to you. Then they hand you an envelope with a large sum of money or cheque in it. Unexpected free money is always nice, right? How do you feel now? Again, your reality and imagination are not the same.
None of these scenarios is actually happening, but you reacted to them as though they were. Anger in the first scenario and happiness in the second are both emotions that you likely felt. This is because your mind fed your brain information to work with. So whatever your mind tells your brain, your brain reacts and controls your body accordingly. Reality and imagination play out as though they are the same. Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that conditions change brain chemistry, and this can influence how you feel and behave. For example, serotonin levels have been implicated in clinical depression. Such situations are not the norm and often require medical intervention. However, the focus of this article is on our day to day functioning — our default ways of living.
I hope these examples have helped to buttress the first statement I made about reality and imagination. Why is it important to know this? There are three main reasons I wrote this article. The first is, for you to know that your mind is way more powerful than you know! You have the ability to create experiences that can be positive or negative for you. The second is that, knowing how powerful your mind is, you can begin to be more intentional about the kinds of thoughts you think and what you feed your mind. Finally, this realization should help highlight how important mental health is for your well-being.
We think that the extreme cases are the only ones that need attention. However, there so much pain, hurt, anxiety, suffering, and unhealthy choices that have occurred in your life. They could have been avoided by adjusting our mindset. For example, making assumptions about a person’s behavior can make us treat them in ways that are unhealthy. Check out this article for a great way to do this. Now it’s your turn, let me know what you think in the comments below.