What Is Cavebrain?
Two questions for you:
Q1: Have you ever wondered why when you get nervous, you often get butterflies in your stomach? Why wouldn’t you just feel anxious and leave your tummy out of it?
Q2: Have you ever wondered why one negative comment (say in a school report, or an assessment of you or about you on social media or one bad review of your book/podcast/show) affects you much more than ten positive ones put together?
The answer to both of these questions also holds the key to the change you so desperately want from The Body Confidence Project (BCP). In fact I believe that it holds the key to being happy in the 21st centrury.
That answer is Cavebrain.
The Hidden Power That Is Cavebrain
A few years ago, I started getting very very interested in evolutionary psychology (EP).
EP basically tells us all the ways that we are still acting as if we were cavedwellers living in small tribes. It is as if there is a switch in our brains that seems to flip itself - usually at very inconvenient times - to make our inner cavewoman take over. For example:
#1 We get butterflies in the stomach because when we feel stress, that inner cavewoman interprets it as a threat. Evolution has not yet equipped us with a frozen computer/broken photocopier/nerve-wracking presentation/argument with friend mode. In cavedwelling times, threat meant the possible end of your life: a sabre-toothed tiger, a massive hurricane, an aggressive neighbouring tribe. Inner cavewoman believes the frozen computer is life threatening.
Why the butterflies in the stomach? Because digestion shuts down when we feels stressed. Why on earth would the body waste any energy on digestion when there is a sabre-toothed tiger after you?
#2 We sometimes say things we regret in the heat of an argument. We get the wrong end of the stick about something we hear, and before we know it we have sent a furious email that we later have to grovel on bended knees about.
Some people become uncharacteristically aggressive when they feel threatened. Stress is also known as fight or flight because our inner cavewoman is designed to fight or flee any threat. In this mode, we are highly sensitive to any threat because evolution-wise, it is safer to be wrong about the rustling grass you mistake for a predator coming to eat you than it is to be wrong about the predator you mistake for rustling grass. One of these mistakes left your ancestors alive, and the other dead. In stress, we are wired to be safe rather than sorry.
#3 We love gossip (come on, you too!). Gossip developed as a way to keep every member of the tribe behaving in ways that are good for the tribe, once tribes started to grow in size and it became harder to know everyone equally well. If one of our cavedwelling ancestors were seen stealing some of tomorrow’s meat in the night, the group could punish the thief. However, in addition to this, gossip enabled the group to create a social rule that made it clear that future stealing would be frowned upon. It kept everyone in line.
And in those days, if your place in the tribe was insecure this was very.bad.news. indeed. Without the tribe you were dead.
#4 What you have just read about gossip explains why the one negative comment or review can affect you so much more than the ten positive ones. Our inner cavewoman gets 10 great reviews and thinks “Nice!” She gets one bad one and thinks “Oh no! Is my place in the tribe at risk?” Better to be safe rather than complacent, she thinks.
I coined the word Cavebrain (CB) to describe how our inner cavewoman thinks and acts. In a nutshell, CB is constantly asking two questions:
Question 1: Am I in immediate danger? (as illustrated by examples #1 and #2 above)
Question 2: Does the tribe accept me? (as illustrated by examples #3 and #4)
I will explain exactly how CB is so central to body confidence very soon. But first...
The Exciting News 🙂
When I first coined the term Cavebrain, I realised how important it was in helping people stop binge eating (that is another story). This was great, but I felt a little dejected.
While it was very useful for my work as The Eating Coach, what made me lose heart a bit was when I started thinking on a more global level about how people are more stressed than they need to be, and how the world seems such a troubled place at the moment. Watching groups of people in bars and restauarants all ignoring each other in favour of their Facebook feeds, I thought how Cavebrain must be silently on red alert 24/7. And then of course there is the massive social pressure (especially on teenage girls) for women to look a certain way.
However, during the development of this project, I have come to realise that Cavebrain is not some immoveable force sitting in your head with inflexible demands. (that is why I will not use the term ‘inner cavewoman’ from now on. That image is not helpful. She seems too powerful and scary. We know the brain can change. Hence the more helpful term ‘Cavebrain’)
To reduce your stress, you don’t need to go and live on the top of a mountain in Tibet.
To stop feeling so isolated, there is no need to find a group of close-knit friends, like some ready made sitcom cast: the tribe your Cavebrain sorely misses.
I and the clients who have tried the exercises in The BCP have found that Cavebrain is much easier to influence and satisfy than I had thought. Much of the work I have personally done for this project has been about calming my Cavebrain down. My life has the same pressures as many of you reading this. I am a single parent with two lively and challenging adolescent boys, and I do 95% of the parenting alone without a partner. I don’t go out as much as I would like. I read the news with the same dismay as I imagine you do. I am still compulsive at times about certain social media apps. I have suffered with depression and still get dread thoughts about my future.
At the time of writing it is ten weeks since I started trying out the ideas in The BCP and getting feedback from clients. In that time, I have made one of the most liberating realisations of my life: any of us, no matter what our situation and mindset, can improve our relationship with Cavebrain.
This is a game changer in terms of your body confidence. But it is also a powerful way to live the most empowered and at the same time happy life that you can.