As my never-ending quest continues for more understanding of how the human brain works, I'm sharing my discoveries with you. This week, the topic is two brain structures that are, well, a little nutty.

• The amygdala is actually a pair (amygdalae) of tiny, almond-shaped structures perched on the top of your brainstem, near the base of your brain. But because the two parts act together, they're referred to in the singular. Fun fact: Amygdala is the Greek word for almond.

• Your prefrontal cortex sits behind your forehead. It's part of the frontal lobe that curls like a cashew around the core of your brain. We call it the CEO of the brain.

And it's a very busy bee.

The prefrontal cortex organizes your experiences into categories, forms theories about why things happen as they do, draws conclusions, and plans for the future.

Each time you consider rolling the dice and trying something new, both the amygdala and prefrontal cortex weigh in.

If the anticipation of the new activity creates a feeling of tension, your amygdala will be activated first. Tasked with protecting you from any and all threats, it generalizes any possibility for a negative outcome as a bad thing you must avoid. Everything is viewed through the filter of your past experiences.

Your amygdala is your overprotective mommy, keeping you in your fenced-in yard rather than exposing you to “danger.” While it protects you well from life-threatening danger, ensuring your safety from absolutely ANY uncertain experience comes at the expense of learning, growing and enjoying a better life. If you listen only to your amygdala and avoid all risk, your life devolves into a series of repetitions of patterns from the past. You live in a bubble. Yeah, you're alive, but are you living?

It's the prefrontal cortex that fine-tunes the conversation. It recognizes the similar elements to past experiences, but also points out where this situation isn't identical. This is the key to staying in your cortex, rather than being sucked down into the rabbit hole of fear by your amygdala.

During your lifetime, your brain accumulates tons of data, refining its ability to predict the probabilities of danger and success. Previous posts fleshed out the relationships among fear, risk, gambling, success and fulfillment. Today, let's take the conversation to the next level: fear and trust are inversely proportional. More of one = less of the other.

It's like walking into a dark room. You turn on the light. Not because you want to make the darkness go away, but because you want the lights on, so you can see what's in the room. When the lights are on, you don't see the darkness any more. You could say that a dimly lit room is a partially dark room.

The same concept applies to trust. The more you can trust your ability to make choices that benefit you, the less fear you'll feel. The more you can trust others to support you, the less you'll activate your amygdala. A quiet amygdala is a calm, focused mind. And a happy camper.

When your self-trust is limited, your amygdala is active more of the time. Constant, habitual thinking about fears makes them deeply ingrained, but they're not unchangeable. Just as you acquired all of your fears, you can also release them. As I've said repeatedly, you don't get rid of fears by focusing on getting rid of them. Any attention you give to them has the opposite effect: they get stronger.

So the first step in releasing a fear is to decouple it from the expectation of a negative outcome (also a habitual thought). This is a prefrontal cortex task, which is good news. You want more cortex thinking going on. Again, the point is to focus on what you want to be thinking about.

Here are two simple strategies for staying in your cortex:

• Identify what's different about today's situation. How are YOU different? In other words, what skills or knowledge do you have now, that you didn't have before? What new resources are available to you now? Keep looking for more differences. There could be dozens. Every difference weakens the activation of the amygdala.

• Play the What-if game. You're amygdala isn't as freaked out when you imagine a hypothetical situation. You give yourself permission to sketch out ideas and possibilities without committing to any action yet. The longer you sit with the notion of taking a novel action, the more you'll figure out how to mitigate the risks involved, and the more comfortable your brain will become with the idea of going after it.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Widener is a Certified Life Coach and author of Power For A Lifetime: Tools You Customize to Build Your Personal Power Every Day Of Your Life. You can download two chapters of her book at no cost at Her passion is assisting her clients to discover what is most important to them, then to create more balance and satisfaction in their lives. Empowerment Life Coaching is a comprehensive program that teaches clients simple ways to build their personal power and overcome obstacles to achieving their dreams. Judy has coached more than 600 people over the past 12 years. Her website is