Our brains and behavioral predispositions were not developed for the challenges of the 21st century with its steady media diet and frightening events and social comparisons. Why do we do the things we do? The mind is trying to solve an ancient problem of safety and belonging, using mental processes that were not designed for the modern world.
We have evolved to think this way, and we can’t change. We will not stop thinking about what might go wrong in the near or distant future. Nor will we be able to consistently resist the urge to ruminate, worry about people’s opinion of us, compare ourselves to others, and yearn for more. We are simply not built that way.
We can learn to change the relationship we have with ourselves. We can learn to worry and think painful thoughts without getting caught up in them. Instead of being scared by our inner mental life and letting it dominate our actions, we can recognize it for what it is and refocus on what actually matters. This will take time, patience, and practice.
When you find yourself obsessing over unpleasant thoughts and feelings, take a deep breath and ask how a struggle like this could have helped your distant ancestors. It might bring a greater sense of self - compassion. More often than not, you may find that your problem-solving mind is just trying to keep you safe and in the group. It is just the kind of primate you are.
-Steven C. Hayes, PH.D