We all have three states of mind: an emotional, rational, and wise mind.
Our brain develops from the hindbrain up to midbrain until the final area of development occurs in the forebrain. From an evolutionary perspective, the hindbrain and midbrain are also known as our ancient or reptilian brain. This is where the limbic system is housed, and it contains the two almond-shaped neural bundles known as the amygdala. The amygdala signals the flight, fight, or freeze response that occurs when we feel uncertainty or when there is a real or perceived threat. Also, it is the part of our brain that triggers our instinct-based, raw emotions. When we think and act with our emotional state of mind, we are operating primarily from the ancient part of our brain which evolved more than half a billion years ago.
Conversely, our new brain which contains the prefrontal cortex, and our executive functioning, is the base of operation for calculated reason, and it allows for planning and intentional thoughts to occur. This young part of the brain evolved only a few hundred thousand years ago.
So you can see just from the brain’s development in the evolutionary timeline, there is a big gap between the development of the old and new brain. The gap is not one that has been easy to close. Yet with the advancement in neuroscience and fMRI technology, we understand that the brain is malleable and that gloriously hopeful concept known as neuroplasticity means that if we change the way we think and create new mental habits, we have the ability to build new neural connections as well as strengthen existing ones.
We can begin to close the gap between the old and new brain, and this is where the wise mind has a chance carve out its rightful place between the emotional and rational mind.
Have you ever thought about how you see time? If you were to tell a story about a character named Charlie, would your narrative take place over the course of a day in his life, a week in his life...a month, a year, or the entirety of his lifespan?
For some of us, we naturally think about time in terms of hours and days and connect it to our emotions or "feel good" needs in the moment. This view of time is considered a truncated time horizon of hours, days, and weeks. It supports evidence that you might have a restricted range of temporal attention and are more emotional than rationally minded (Psychology Compass, 2021).
Conversely, others migrate to thinking in more rational terms about the risks and consequences of making choices that could have long-term impacts well into the future. While this thinking has its benefits, it may also create analysis paralysis or regretful thoughts about unfulfilled experiences because the rational mind prevented one's motivation to seize the moment.
This preference for in the momentary thought and action might mean you are more oriented to a hyper-emotional mindset.
Now, if you are less at the beck and call of your emotions and do not act with impulsivity but are slower to act and get caught up in a never-ending search for the best possible solution, it represents evidence that you may be more naturally oriented to a rational state of mind.
Neither the emotional nor rational state of mind is ideal. At polar ends, both can result in negative feelings, depression, and a lack in overall confidence. Our old and new brain tend to approach their tasks dichotomously – it is all or nothing, either emotions are on high, or dialed right down to cold and robot-like in nature.
The middle ground is where we access our wise mind, and it is this area between the extremes of our old and new brain where the wise mind finds its purpose.
It is the place where you know how to dance between emotion and reason to harness the optimal approach for what is needed at the time.
Your wise mind uses just the right amount of intuition. Here, your actions and thoughts are holistic and adaptive. You feel confident and capable of trusting yourself to work through situations and experiences in the most favourable way. Your wise mind helps you override the default switch that your ancient brain wants to flip on.
To solidify this concept, here's an 8:16-minute TEDxFultonStreet talk by Lance Pendleton called Guiding difficult decisions from "monkey brain" to "wise mind".
You can train your wise mind by taking a similar approach to how you might go about changing your dietary or exercise habits. It takes conscious effort and regular practice. The wise mind can be trained by implementing a tactical and habit-based set of mental exercises (Psychology Compass, 2021).
There is so much more to cover on this topic. I hope these basic tips provide you with some mental food to feed your wise mind.
Remind yourself to exercise your mind. It has the ability to adapt and create new pathways to help you build confidence, reduce negative or sad thoughts, and make better decisions. Using your wise mind can positively transform your life.
Gratz, K. L., Tull, M. T., & Wagner, A. W. (2005). Applying DBT mindfulness skills to the treatment of clients with anxiety disorders. In Acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches to anxiety (pp. 147-161). Springer, Boston, MA.
Psychology Compass. (2021, August 4). Training the wise mind for greater self-confidence. Psychology Compass.