English Conversations For English Learners-Why Having A Big Brain Is Not Always An Advantage Ep 530

A man meditating in a green forest. An English language Listen & Learn podcast about the links between your mind and body. Improve your English listening skills while you learn a little more about why your brain works the way it does.

📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 2869 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 15 min

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Learn English, Learn About Your Brain, And Listen To It All In An Easy To Consume Way

A podcast to help you learn English naturally and improve your English listening skills. Today we learn why we poor humans suffer more from fight or flight and why having a clever brain isn’t always an advantage. So while you learn new English vocabulary, build your long term English language memory and work on your listening comprehension, you will also gain an interesting insight into how we humans work at a mind and body level.

If you’re wondering why an English conversation about body and mind is going to help you learn to speak English fluently, then you’re probably new to Adept English. So firstly hello and welcome. Our approach to language learning is through language acquisition, an approach you’ve already used and know works, because it was the approach you used to learn your first ‘native’ language as a child.

We use the same proven approach you used for your first language to help you learn new languages. One of the most important aspects of this type of learning is lots of repeat listening. Most people will only listen to something several times if it’s interesting. So all of our listen and learn podcasts are about interesting things.

Being self aware is a very good first step to reducing unnecessary stress and anxiety. If you don’t know why something is happening, you are going to struggle to come up with a plan to help solve your problems. I love understanding why we behave the way we do and today I’m going to share with you a brief insight into why we humans do what we do, even when it’s not good for us.

We often regard our human brains as one of the most complex objects in the known universe. No other physical structure can rival its capabilities. But despite all its astounding powers, it has its fair share of flaws. We discover in today’s show, our paranoia and anxiety are more prevalent than any other species’, because our fight-or-flight response kicks in when there is no real danger.

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The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: English Conversations For English Learners-Why Having A Big Brain Is Not Always An Advantage

Today I’m going to talk about a psychological idea, which is relevant and useful to all of us. We all have bodies and we all have minds. And we often treat them separately, but really they are wired together and connected. So this podcast may help you gain some more understanding of your connections between body and mind. And while you’re listening to me talk about this, you’ll also be learning some great English. A dual purpose podcast then! That means a podcast with two purposes - learning about psychological mechanisms and learning English. Happy listening!

Hello, I’m Hilary, and you’re listening to Adept English. We will help you to speak English fluently. All you have to do is listen. So start listening now and find out how it works.

A word about improving your pronunciation

Oh - and before I do any of that, just a reminder about something that’s really exciting for me! I’ve got a lot of material on English Pronunciation and I would love to release this as an Adept English Course. If you would be interested in improving your pronunciation using a Listen & Learn Adept English Pronunciation Course, please let us know!

If there’s enough interest, we’ll release this pronunciation course. In return for registering your interest, you’ll get 50% code for the course! All we’re asking you to do is register before 30th April - by going to vip.adeptenglish.com and simply putting in your email address. If enough people register - we’ll put out a brand new English Consonant Pronunciation Course.

So if you want to be one of those people who get 50% discount, please sign up. No obligation and for you, the course will be available at £30, rather than the full price of £60.

Do we view mind and body as separate?

Back to today’s topic. So in the way that we view ourselves, we very often see ‘mind’, MIND and ‘body’, BODY separately. So your ‘mind’ means ‘your experience, your functioning inside your head’. And it’s different from the word ‘brain’, BRAIN, which means the actual physical organ, ‘the grey matter’ in your head. Your ‘mind’ means how you think and how you feel emotionally.


A man meditating in his house. English listening practice that helps you understand why it is having a big brain can be a disadvantage when it comes to the fight-or-flight responses we’ve all had in our lives.

©️ Adept English 2022

Your mind is ‘the inside experience in your head’. And we use the term ‘body’, to mean our physical selves - our arms, our legs, our stomach, our lungs. And if you’re healthy and well or if you’re unhealthy and ill, we do tend to see this in terms of mind or body - mental or physical. So an organisation like our good old NHS, the health system that we have here in the UK, is very much divided into physical health and mental health. ‘Mental’, MENTAL just means ‘of the mind’. So these two things are often thought about as though they’re completely separate, and it clearly isn’t the case.

But we have a ‘vagus nerve’

Now we have something in our bodies called ‘the Vagus Nerve’. That’s VAGUS NERVE. And actually this is a whole set of nerves, connections if you like which come directly from the brain, not through the spinal chord and they’re connected to different parts of the body.

It’s through the vagus nerve system that many automatic functions, like our heart beat or the amount of saliva, SALIVA - that’s the liquid in our mouths - it’s through this nerve that these things are regulated. This vagus nerve connection also means that mind and body often operate together, in conjunction. They’re absolutely not separate functions.

An example. If you’re lying in bed at night, just about to go to sleep and suddenly you hear a noise downstairs, you might move from being in a state where you were relaxed and sleepy to a state of immediate readiness and alertness. You might sit up in bed, you might listen, your heart might be pounding. Nothing has happened physically to you - but your heart is beating fast, special hormones start to run through your body - cortisol, adrenaline all prepare you for action. And this is happening because of the communication between the understanding in your brain or mind and a physical response in your body. It’s happening through the vagus nerve. You’ve just heard a noise, but your mind worries it might be an intruder and your body goes into a different state as a result.

We call that state ‘fight or flight’, FIGHT or FLIGHT. And it’s through this vagus nerve that these responses are possible. Mind connects to body - and body connects to mind - automatically.

Fight or Flight Mode

Now that reaction may be an obvious one - who hasn’t worried about ‘things going bump in the night’? But what’s interesting is how automatic that reaction is. We don’t intend it - it just happens. Our mind and our body do it for us. And that state that we’re triggered into - what we call that ‘fight or flight’ state? The cortisol and adrenalin prepare us for action.

When we say ‘Fight or flight’ - our bodies react as though we’re about to face a tiger or a woolly mammoth at least, from prehistoric times. So our body makes us ready to either fight, FIGHT - to battle with the animal or our attacker. Or we get ready for ‘flight’, FLIGHT. That means to try to run away, to escape. So ‘fight or flight’ is like an emergency mode - all our systems at the ready. It’s ‘a code red’. Emergency! Your heart beats faster, your breathing quickens so that there’s more oxygen and you’re ready for ‘fight for your life’ or ‘run for your life’.


Modern life triggers fight or flight in different ways

The trouble is, in our modern lives, it’s probably not as simple as a tiger or a woolly mammoth that we face. It’s other situations that will trigger this ‘fight or flight’ response in us. It may be someone running into the back of your car on the way home from work. It may be your boss losing her temper or a customer making a complaint - again. It may be an argument with your partner or spouse or a member of your family.

These situations also cause the heart to race, the adrenalin and cortisol to be released and the breathing to quicken. But in these situations, there’s nowhere to run to and hopefully you’re not going to need to have a physical fight to defend yourself. But what it means is that we enter a state of being where we behave differently from usual, where we make choices more automatically and ones that aren’t always rational. And it may be difficult to calm down, to come out of this ‘fight or flight’ state. So being triggered into ‘fight or flight’ mode isn’t as useful to us in these situations in modern life. We’re not good at calming ourselves down. More of that a bit later.

Have a look at our podcast bundles on the Courses page at adeptenglish.com

Just pausing a minute there to remind you that if you’re enjoying this podcast and you’d like to be able to download lots of podcasts onto your phone for a small fee - go to our website at adeptenglish.com. Go to our courses page - and have a look at our podcast bundles.

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They’re very good value for money and they give you a lot of English language listening material on interesting topics like this one, to help you practise and improve your English. Back to our topic.

We all have different fight or flight triggers

Depending upon our personal history and our experience, different things may trigger us. Different situations cause us to go into this state. An argument with your partner or spouse will do it for most of us and so will something more dramatic or dangerous like a car accident. But we each have this type of trigger effect when something’s happening that automatically reminds us of - or feels like - a previous bad situation for us.

Remember my review of the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk? That’s in podcast number 478 which is all about trauma, TRAUMA. Well, if you’ve have traumatic experiences, then you will be even more likely to recognise this idea of there being triggers - that’s TRIGGER - which put you into this ‘fight or flight’ mode. You can be triggered at any time by things in your environment which remind you of your trauma.

It’s automatic. You have no choice. And the word ‘trigger’? That’s the word for the lever that fires a gun - you ‘pull the trigger’ of a gun. And as an idiom, if you ‘pull the trigger’, you set in motion all kinds of things which are unstoppable. This reaction in your body is automatic and unstoppable, which isn’t always very helpful if you’re not faced with a woolly mammoth or a tiger as your problem!

How animals handle fight or flight differently to humans

Animals have this response too. They too go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, but it works slightly differently for them. They’re hard-wired to react to danger. Take a gazelle, GAZELLE that’s caught by a cheetah. That’s cheetah, CHEETAH - that’s a big, spotty cat. Basically the gazelle is the cheetah’s dinner. Imagine that the cheetah has caught the gazelle and it’s just about to kill it. But then something happens and the cheetah moves away. Maybe there’s an elephant passing by and the cheetah is disturbed. That gazelle may lie there for a few minutes - it may stay so still that it looks dead. But then, recognising that the cheetah is gone, the gazelle gets up again - and runs off, back to its herd, back to its family.

So the ‘fight or flight’ mode for that animal perhaps went a stage further. The gazelle’s reaction was to freeze, FREEZE - to stay still and play dead. But now he’s up and running and back with his family, with his herd. And thinking about his recovery from that experience? He’s got an advantage over us human beings. The gazelle doesn’t have big frontal lobes - he doesn’t have as much of that most human, developed part of the brain which can play back what happened to him again and again. He doesn’t spend the evening talking to the other gazelles in the herd about his ‘near miss’ with the cheetah. He just forgets about it, presumably.

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Whereas we humans, we remember, we recall, we make meaning. That scenario of nearly being killed because we got caught by a cheetah - we replay that in our minds. We would worry about it much, much more than the gazelle, because of our greater intelligence! And even if we are able to arrive at saying ‘Phew, that was a close one - I’m glad I didn’t get eaten by a cheetah!’, we may still be full of Existential Angst about whether our children or those we love might face also that threat.

We can recall the past, we can rehearse the future. Animals with their less developed brains just don’t do this! We can imagine the bad scenario, over and over again, if we like! And we can also empathise with others who might get eaten by a cheetah. This is much more human, which is great. But this thinking and these responses also cost us much more psychologically.

Let us know if you want to hear more about this

This is an important subject - even just the idea of ‘fight and flight’ - there’s a lot more to say about it. How do we identify our triggers and what can we do about them? Do we go into ‘fight or flight’ unnecessarily? And how do we calm ourselves down, once we’ve been into that state? So that we don’t spend ages afterwards thinking about all the bad stuff that could have happened - or the bad things which might still happen?


If you’re interested in knowing more about this - let us know. Ask questions, send some emails to us. And meanwhile, don’t forget to sign up for that 50% discount code for the Listen & Learn Adept English Consonant Pronunciation Course. Go to vip.adeptenglish.com - and enter your email address.

Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

Thank you so much for listening. Please help me tell others about this podcast by reviewing or rating it. And, please share it on social media. You can find more listening lessons and a free English course at adeptenglish.com




The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
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