The Critical Period
The average human will have approximately 6000 thoughts in one day. Before the Oscar Martinez’s of the world come after me, this statistic comes from psychology experts at Queen’s University in Canada. At first, I found that hard to believe considering that there are days where I spend hours thinking that Drake will probably start a relationship podcast, create a show called Marvin’s Men, and launch a skincare line just so he can get out of dropping another album. But on a serious note…6000 thoughts? If I had to really think about it, how much of these thoughts were positive? Negative?
Last year, at a psychedelics conference, a physician spoke about the “critical period” theory, a specific time window during early development when brain plasticity is maximal. It is the duration when children are impacted by factors that are involved in the development of hearing, vision, social bonding, language, and most importantly, perception. The critical period, by definition, does not occur at a later stage in life. This was somewhat disappointing to hear, although maybe I was still salty from finding out that the conference was not handing out DMT and LSD Costco-style to attendees. Okay, maybe the critical period lasts for a longer period in children, but what if adults still had a critical period that reopens everyday from the moment you gain consciousness, even if it was for a few seconds? One could hypothesize that the adult “critical period” is especially impactful to perception and outlook. How many of these thoughts that I have, bend the reality that I live in? Does my subconscious mind have the power to alter my success, happiness, and self-knowledge?
Over the next couple of weeks I tried this out. Sadly, almost everyday, the moment I’d gain consciousness I’d immediately think about things like my failing relationship, or the fear of doing something incorrectly at work, or feeling weak from not working out the past week. I realized that it was extremely difficult for me to control what my immediate first thought was going to be. I kept pondering “why everything bad keeps happening to me” and my actions throughout the day would reflect those thoughts. Why was I resisting the reality of the way things were? These “negative” events had already happened. The stress, fear, anxiety, and worry was proportionate to how much I was resisting the way that the world was.
Humans have programmed habits and traits that are built into us, so we may have judgment against somebody or ourselves that may not be the thought we want to have, but it is the first thought. How many times have you been in the middle of a conversation with someone and the most random and completely unprompted thought pops into your head. Or is that just me? Anyways, over time I had to realize that even though I could not control what my first thought would be, I could always CHOOSE what my second thought was going to be. Not only when I wake up, but any time during the day when I am in control of my subconscious mind. I knew that I had to convince myself that the world is not out to get me, but in fact is working for me. It is never about what happens in my life, it is about the perspective and perception of what happens to me in my life.
So I adopted this mindset and it ended up working really well for me. I felt at peace and had a much more positive outlook in life even when things did not exactly go as I planned…until a few weeks ago. It was a Friday night and I was excited to grab some Creole goodness in LA with the homies. I borrowed my brother-in-law’s car to drive to my friend’s apartment just to come back and see his brand new car was nowhere to be found. My heart dropped. We drove around in my friend’s car in circles thinking that my car would be somewhere else. I honestly did not know what I was expecting. Maybe some kind soul took it for a car wash, cleaned out my nephew’s car seat, and just parked it somewhere else? Nevertheless, the truth settled in. It was stolen. I felt violated, guilty, and helpless. This was not supposed to happen. I thought that if I put a positive spin on everything and was thankful that “bad” things would not happen to me. There was a period when I started to doubt everything and briefly fell back into the “WHY ME?” dilemma.
After a few hours of processing what had happened, I had a weird shift in the way I was thinking about the whole situation. I kept telling myself, “Maybe if I had driven that car back that night, I would have gotten into a terrible accident” or “The next car is going to be better and cheaper than the car that got stolen.” I know, that sounds borderline crazy but I have to brainwash myself into believing that this is why this event occurred. Why would I chose to feel sad or guilty over something that is in the past? I did not want to cheat on my future with my past.
Do not get me wrong, from a practicality standpoint the “let’s just be positive all the time” mantra is easier said than done. I think it is equally as important to feel and understand every single emotion you go through. It is impractical to ignore negativity completely, but it is crucial to understand the significance of extracting the positive from the negative rather than focusing more on the negativity.
The world is going to happen. People get laid off. Relationships fall apart. Loved ones pass. These events and others are likely to occur at some point in time to either you or me. This may not be what I intend to happen, but I am absolutely certain that I am in control of my thoughts and reactions to them. I am sure that in the future, I will look back and be glad about everything that has happened in my life, good or bad. As I write this, I am in excitement of what life has in store for me. Everything happens as it should.
I think Rainer Maria Rilke said it best,
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final