The human brain evolved in stressful conditions – avoiding Sabre-Tooth Tigers, hunting just to eat, and lots of hard physical graft.
And yet it’s now, in times of great luxury and abundance, that we need mindfulness. What’s going on?
Well, our brains evolved some fantastic mechanisms to handle those tough conditions:
- A fight/flight system to get us out of trouble really quickly
- A “negativity bias” to make sure we activate fight/flight when we need to (running from danger is more important than food or sex!)
- Abstract thought, to create great new ways to control our environment, relate to others, and even explore the meaning of life.
These mechanisms have been amazingly successful: we now live in a place of safety, abundance and ease. But in this transformed world, these wonderful mechanisms of the brain aren’t needed so much. In fact, they can even start to cause problems:
- Threats are rarely physical now – but fight/flight still kicks in, generating stress and anxiety;
- There’s a lot of good in our lives – but the negativity bias can stop us deeply appreciating it
- Too much abstracted thought can leave us distracted, making hard to focus and hard to simply enjoy what’s in front of us.
So that’s why we need mindfulness now – to adapt our brains to the wonderful new conditions we’ve created. To calm down fight/flight, and help us manage stress. To overcome the negativity bias and get real happiness from the good that comes our way. And to help us focus and stay present, which brings more effectiveness and enjoyment into our lives.