It is fascinating how different types of knowledge and seemingly unrelated concepts fit together in unexpected ways. When you read and study and learn about a lot of different subjects, they often start to fit together serendipitously. It also happens that knowledge comes in sets of 3- Newton’s 3 Laws of Physics, the Trinity, 3-D, the 3 branches of the US government, and the words “of the people, by the people, for the people” in the Gettysburg Address, just to name a few examples. In the world of psychology, in the late 19th century Sigmund Freud laid out his theories on the 3 parts of the human personality, the Id, Ego, & Superego. Later on, the Triune brain theory of evolutionary science illustrated the 3 parts of the human brain, based on our inheritance from lower life forms like the reptilian and mammalian brains. In the field of leadership and personal development, late in the 20th century we learned some powerful concepts taught by Franklin Covey on the pinnacle of human life and maturity in the popular book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, which were the progression from dependence and independence towards interdependence. If you learn to use these 3 concepts and your 3 Brains it can change your life for the better.
Here’s how it works:
Freud’s 3 Part Model of Personality
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a revolutionary. He is the founder of modern psychology and was the first to send many in search of psychological cures for their problems, for better or worse. Though some of his ideas on human sexuality and its effects on neuroses were proven false, he did do a lot to open us up to concepts of healthy and unhealthy regression. Freud’s theory on the human personality involved 3 parts: the Id, the instinctive part, the SuperEgo part, which has a critical and moralizing role, and the Ego, the individual consciousness part which mediates between the SuperEgo and Id.
The main way you can benefit from Freud’s theory is to conceptualize that we need a healthy Ego and SuperEgo by which to repress our natural Id, if we are going to get anywhere in life and be a healthy adult. You have an instinctive need to eat, have sex, fight if necessary, and to survive. These instincts, which are initiated by the Id are not bad, but you want to be able to control them. Healthy repression is a natural part of life. Unfortunately, much of our cultural programming is about getting people to respond to the Id and to satisfy urges. Consumer marketing is based largely on the knowledge that your Id can be manipulated, because it acts automatically and unconsciously.
The Id part of you will do whatever it can to survive, and knows no ethics, delayed gratification, or morality. The Id does not think in terms of right or wrong, good or bad, or about long-term goals. It only thinks about a scratch that it wants to itch. This is not good because if you ever want to achieve a long-term goal of any kind- write a book, finish a course, have a happy marriage, get in shape- the Id is your enemy because the it wants instant gratification not repression of immediate desires in pursuit of a long - term goal. By simply being aware of this, you’ll be able to free yourself better from automatic, reactive responses to stimulus like pizza you’re trying not to eat, thoughts you don't want to obsess on, cigarettes you don’t want to smoke, or relatives you don’t want to yell at. To be healthy and free is to find a balance for your instincts, which are not bad but need to be controlled for the more satisfying aspects of life and for long-term, ultimate goods.
The Triune Brain
If you look at a sliding pull-out telescope, this is roughly how you should think of evolution as it applies to your life. The past is part of us and helps make us who we are but it does not, our at least it should not, control us or define us. The human self incorporates the past and the past is present in the present. This is how life works. We have lower life forms in our past and they are part of us, but not all of us. We can characterize these 3 forms as reptilian (distant past), mammalian (past), and human (present) according to the evolutionary model called the Triune Brain theory.
The reptilian, or lizard, part of the human brain is:
- Located in the brain stem, the amygdala, and the cerebellum
- Associated with the fight or flight stress response
- Works on autopilot
- Is essential in safety, survival, and reproduction
The mammalian part of the human brain is the second level and is characterized by:
- The limbic system
- Motor control
- Emotions, memories, and habits (good or bad)
- Decision making
The human brain, is the most complex part of the brain as well as most importantly where human consciousness is found, and is:
- Located in the neocortex
- Responsible for language, abstract thought, imagination, consciousness, logic, creativity
- The locus of control for delaying gratification
If you want to apply the triune brain theory, it’s pretty simple. Learn to use your higher brain centers, your human brain, to have a better and healthier life. To be free of stress, which is a learned and automatic response to various stimuli (traffic, other people, work, etc.) be aware that your lizard brain needs to be overcome because stress is over-activation of the lizard brain. You are not just a conditioned reptile or animal. You have the ability to overcome your past and your programming. Stress lives in and loves the lizard brain! When we’re stressing out, the lizard brain is in control. Tap into your human brain to work through your problems in a constructive way and you’ll be healthier.
Covey’s 3 Stages Towards Interdependence
One of my all-time favorite books is The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Franklin Covey. This book really helped me create a successful business and practice when I was starting out working, and it helped me to be more disciplined and self-aware. One of the best things I learned from reading this book was the “Power of Interdependence”. Covey teaches that there are 3 levels of maturity and development in human human life:
- Dependence - We are dependent on other people to provide for us and take care of us.
- Independence - We break free of dependence and learn to function on our own.
- Interdependence - We learn to work with others as a team, maintaining our independence but also depending on others to achieve more as a group than we could as a whole.
You can see how Covey’s model is a natural progression that we should go on towards a healthy life. Interdependence is the healthiest and most fulfilling way to live and function, and allows us to grow and mature and develop the most. From my experience, I have found this to be true. I was a very independent person for a long time, but over time I realized that the best things in life can only be accomplished within a group. We need to maintain our identity and hold on to our values, but also be willing to work with others, learn from others, and cooperate. This is how we grow stronger.
This takes patience, humility, as well as good communication skills and other character traits.
The best way to live is to be both independent and dependent at the same time, in other words to be interdependent. It takes time for most of us to grow into interdependence, but it’s a powerful place to be. Referencing the other 2 theories, Freud’s and the Triune Brain, it also requires us to call on our highest brain capabilities as human beings. By becoming interdependent, we can still be free, but we can live in community and harmony with others, achieving more and living a fuller and healthier life.
We live in an anxious age. We are at a cultural standstill, and in many ways we are regressing. We are giving in to the Id at every turn, becoming more dependent, and are living out conditioned responses to stress and stimuli without using our highest brain. Everyone is sitting around waiting on something to happen, for something to change, but we need to change first.
You can be free and healthy. Don’t let the “viruses” all around you make you sick. Stress is an infectious disease so build up your body’s immunity to it. Stress is a habit. Lack of self-control and discipline is an automatic habit. Become “immune” to a chaotic world and grow stronger and evolve, by learning to use the best weapons you have- your 3 brains- to your advantage. You can let go of addiction, overreaction, and stress right now. Use your highest brain, balance out your Id, Ego, and SuperEgo. Call on your human brain’s high capacity.
One more time, these are the 3 keys to using all 3 brains:
- Be a balanced person, and aware of your Id.
- Control your automatic primal urges to live to your healthiest human potential.
- Become interdependent and have a meaningful, harmonious, and healthy life.