Have you ever wondered why how you think, feel and act can change dramatically from day to day or even moment to moment?
On some days, you are in your best form and can rise to any challenge with grace. On other days, the most minor irritation upsets you or you have no self-control no matter how hard you try to control your urges. The answer is literally in our brains. Findings from neuroscience reveal that our state of mind depends on what neural networks are firing in our brains, that our neural wiring can either help us or cause us to get in our own way, and that by changing our neural wiring, we can gradually gain mastery over our mind. This paper explains how our emotional states impact brain functioning and how proactively shifting our emotional state enables us to experience a higher level of awareness and consciousness in our daily lives and interactions.
The three emotional states of the brain
The Calm Clarity Framework: Brain 1.0, 2.0, 3.0
Several years ago as a brain geek turned social entrepreneur, I created the Calm Clarity Program to help teenagers from economically disadvantaged communities understand how the brain works and direct the development of their brains to become more resilient to stress and trauma. To do this, I developed a simple, intuitive framework by connecting our emotional states to three distinct overarching patterns of brain activation, which I call Brain 1.0, Brain 2.0 and Brain 3.0, and showing how our brain functioning in each of these states affects the way we think, feel, behave, and interact with people.
This framework for the three emotional states of the brain was partly based on the triune brain model developed by a neuroscientist named Paul MacLean in the 1950s. His theory proposed that the human brain evolved over time in three main layers, such that the structures in each layer enabled new adaptive functions and behaviors. The Calm Clarity framework also integrates more recent insights from brain imaging studies which reveal that emotions correspond to distinct patterns of brain activation and that as human beings shift between emotional states, certain neural circuits are strongly activated or deactivated. For example, activating Brain 1.0 or Brain 2.0 can turn “off” our physiological capacity for empathy because the neural mechanisms for empathy are intertwined with Brain 3.0 (more details on this topic later).
Brain 1.0: “Our Inner Godzilla”
I call the first emotional state Brain 1.0 because the underlying structures are fully formed when we are born. These structures correspond to the self-preservation system that keeps us alive, helps us scan for threats, avoid danger and protect ourselves. When Brain 1.0 is activated, we tend to feel afraid, threatened, defensive, or angry. We become hypervigilant, sometimes even paranoid, about all the things that can go wrong. This is a state of high stress which is often referred to as “fight-or-flight.”
I informally call the persona of Brain 1.0 “the Inner Godzilla” because when Brain 1.0 hijacks our minds, we often feel an urge to smash things or completely withdraw. We’re easily irritated and are likely to take our frustrations out on others. In Brain 1.0, we are consumed with saving ourselves, so Brain 3.0 (which contains our neural mechanisms for pro-social behavior) gets turned “off.”
Brain 2.0: “Our Inner Teen Wolf”
I call the next emotional state Brain 2.0 because the underlying structures mature during adolescence. These structures correspond to the dopamine system (also called the reward system) which motivates us to expend lots of energy to chase after rewards we associate with happiness, success or social status. To reinforce behaviors that promote our own growth and the survival of our species, evolution wired us to get a surge of euphoria-inducing dopamine when we engage in reward-seeking activities; else, we would have no inclination to take on challenges that involve high risks.