You use your mind in most of your waking moments — but more accurately, your mind uses you.

Since the days of our prehistoric ancestors our minds have been controlling our behavior, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s the reason why our species even exists. The problem is that all too often, our mind still operates like it did in prehistoric times.

Our prehistoric mind focused on our survival in the unfolding environment. For example, survival on the African Savanna some 60,000 years ago was risky business. Scarce food, menacing wild animals, and competing tribes all threatened their survival. Our ancient ancestors had to think fast on how to respond to threats, who to choose as a mate, how much to eat and how to find the way home. When they were faced with fight or flight situations, with intuitive thinking (which we usually referred to as gut thinking as the only option) no time was available to consider the facts. However our mind and behaviors that allowed our prehistoric ancestors to survive are frequently not beneficial in today’s environment.

Prehistoric adaptive thinking motivates for competition, conflict, prejudice, fear, worry, depression, and other kinds of negative behavior. Not only do prehistoric minds jeopardize our personal well-being, they block any hope for world peace, not to mention local social justice. However there are some bright spots as more conscious thinking and more effective psychology spreads to affect our culture and consequently that of our genetically affected behaviors.

The mind of 60,000 years ago was locked in automatic-run mode and, unfortunately, so is our own. That ancient mind continuously played back its genetic programs, instincts and life experiences, and therefore was an unconscious mind. Back then, those thoughts weren’t just idle chatter; they generated emotions that got attention to real problems. Their brains were hard-wired with survival behaviors.

Our lying brain

Our brains were not originally designed to make moral decisions about what’s right or wrong, or determine what is a lie and what isn’t. To ensure survival and well-being, the caveman brain was designed to be a superior defense system. Life back then left little time to get the facts. Potential threats demanded quick reactions, commonly called gut reactions, and blind emotions pulled the trigger.

Unfortunately, that kind of thinking continues to be our modus operandi even today. When our brain whispers “danger,” that could well be a lie. If something tells us we need to eat everything in sight, that’s almost always it is a misperception. Perhaps flavored with a few trivial facts and misconceptions, intuitive thinking [gut reaction] is used everyday in families, businesses, charities, religions, and definitely politics.

Scientific or critical thinking — the opposite of intuitive thinking — is based on the accumulation of evidence from experiments that get repeatable results. Critical thinkers might include scientists, financial analysts, and medical providers. The disadvantages of critical thinking is that it is often expensive, time-consuming, and beyond the ordinary needs of society. However critical thinking is the focus of the medical field. For example, in the field of psychology cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is frequently successfully used, and the basis of the therapy to rest on critical thinking.

Your unconscious mind can be described as a recording of your instincts, genetics, and life experiences. It considers everything in relation to the past and develops habits to defend against past mistakes. It defends against perceived threats by keeping you worried and on guard. Those worries are then projected into threatening events in an illusionary future. As you observe your thoughts, remember that all future planning is to avoid pain or increase pleasure.

The solution to the problems presented by our unconscious mind is to live in our conscious mind. That’s another way of saying “live in the moment.” Our caveman mind can’t operate when we’re in the moment because it’s so connected to the past.

Your conscious mind is creative, effective at future planning, and not subject to our past survival and selfish acts. It promotes the state of “we rather than me.” In that mental state, altruism and compassion preside and genetic happiness and joy can reign.

Simply put, the solution to the problems presented by your unconscious mind is to become more conscious.

What is epigenetics and how does it affect us?

In 2008, the National Institutes of Health announced that $190 million had been earmarked for epigenetics research over the following five years. In announcing the funding, government officials noted that epigenetics has the potential to explain mechanisms of aging, human development, the origins of cancer, heart disease, and mental illness, as well as several other conditions.

Even when you’ve inherited genes from your biological parents, they might or might not be active in your own makeup. When a gene activates, that’s called “genetic expression.” It turns out that genetic expression can be affected by your experiences and even by your thoughts and feelings.

At its most basic, epigenetics is the study of these changes in gene expression that do not involve alterations to DNA.

Continue reading – Part 2: Mind, Behaviors and Epigenetics: Unlocking the Potential of Epigenetic Behavioral Therapy.