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Do Our Brains Protect Us From Reality?

Several years ago we took a cruise to Bermuda and decided to create our own excursion by renting a 2 person moped and driving around the island.  I had done this in 1980 when I was a young Navy doctor all of 24 years old.  I remember this being such a fun activity that I wanted to do it again.  Well, this was sort of a disaster, not because we crashed and hurt ourselves, but rather, I could not ride the scooter very well.    After 10 minutes we turned back around, brought it back and rented bicycles instead.  

My personal story reflects the concept that often our brains will sort of protect us from facing reality.  At age 62 at the time of the described event I did not have even close to the physical adeptness that I did at age 24.  My brain sort of “told” me I was the same guy, but reality is that I was not in this circumstance.

Changing scenarios, I have many patients come to me for their first visit and when I ask them their height and weight, I will often get answers that do not come close to reality.  These patients are not intentionally lying, but rather, their brains are providing answers that sort of protect them from the reality that their height is diminished and their weight is much higher than they thought.

PLEASE do not take the following as a political commentary, but rather, an observation by a doctor:  This morning I saw a news network’s  clips from our current President’s debates from 2012 (VP debate), 2020 and several nights ago.  The contrast was stark and quite different in terms of “look”, attention, cognition, communication, etc.  However, I suspect that a similar issue is occurring, i.e. the brain may not allow the person manifesting these differences to actually see them.  Hence, the issues were attributed to a “bad night” and not some other deeper problem.

From a health standpoint, we all must be aware of the tendency of our brains to “protect” us from the reality of our own health condition.  The chest pain may be written off as indigestion, the excessive weight may not be considered a problem, our memory lapses may be simple “brain farts”, etc.

So, the message of today’s entry: Try to find objective methods of assessing/addressing your health.  Seeing a doctor, getting on the scale to see the actual number, having lab tests etc…these, and similar objective evaluations are much more reliable than counting on our own brains to assess our health.  The brain will often protect us from facing reality and the consequences of this can be devastating.

Having your own brain “believe in you” is a good thing…this often propels us to doing great things.  Enjoy Matthew Broderick singing from “How To Succeed In Business”.

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