This Ain’t What You Want


Contributed By
Willie Spears


Several hip-hop artists and some professional athletes brag about their immaturity as youths. Puff Daddy admitted he doesn’t act on his emotions as he used to in his 20s. Retired NBA player Stephen Jackson made the same statement on his podcast.

This enlightenment is not exclusive to celebrities. I have known many people who have made illogical or irrational decisions and years later asked themselves the question, “What was I thinking?”

People who don’t comply with the police, scream and curse for no reason, fight in public or live an illegal lifestyle are not thinking logically.

Your brain receives messages through your spinal cord. This message is designed to go through two more areas of your brain before taking action. The message could come from touch, smell, sound, taste or something you’ve seen.

The second area of the brain to analyze this message is your limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in your behavioral and emotional responses, especially regarding behaviors you need for survival: feeding, reproduction and caring for your young, and fight or flight responses.

When people make dumb decisions, they usually act on their feelings. They may not have learned to manage their emotions. When they are angry, they express anger. When they are hurt or disappointed, they feel the need to hurt or disappoint others. These impulsive actions have led to an introduction to the criminal justice system for some.

Have you ever seen someone in a hostile situation that escalated quickly because of how those involved responded? If these individuals had allowed the message they received to go through the limbic system to the frontal lobe, things could have been different.

 The frontal lobe is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as memory, emotions, impulse control, problem-solving, social interaction and motor function. The frontal lobe is also your emotional control center and home to your personality.

After talking to individuals who are incarcerated, some say, “I don’t know what happened; it’s not like me to do something like that.” The frontal lobe never got the message; therefore, their true personality was never notified. They acted out of emotion and not logic.

 Your best response comes when all three parts of your brain process the message. These messages go from the back of your head, around your neck area and spinal cord through the middle part of your brain, the limbic system before it reaches its destination, the frontal lobe near your forehead.

The prefrontal cortex or frontal lobe is undeveloped in adolescents, and their behavior can be very dramatic, emotional and even illogical. The undeveloped frontal lobe may be the reason you made terrible decisions as a teenager.

 What happens if the front lobe or the reasoning and logical part of your brain are still not developed in your 20s? What hinders this development?

How does the environment affect a child’s brain development?

 The developing brain is easily molded, making it highly responsive to experience and stimulation. Enriching environments will support healthy brain development, but exposure to stress and adverse childhood experiences can change the brain and impact behavior and learning capacity. This causes the decision-making part of the brain to develop later than it was supposed to. Compounding this slow development is the use of marijuana at a young age.   

According to an article written by Dennis Tompson for CBS, marijuana hinders the development of your frontal lobe. Francesca Filbey is the director of Cognitive Neuroscience Research in Addictive Disorders from the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas. Her research shows the use of marijuana at a young age hinders brain development. Dr. David Agus said marijuana use deteriorates part of the frontal lobe. Studies show people who use marijuana have a smaller frontal lobe.

 When you combine the use of marijuana at a young age with the lack of knowledge in managing emotions, you end up with a person more susceptible to entering the criminal justice system.  

Many people are incarcerated because no one trained them to manage their emotions. Undeveloped brains due to drug abuse and culture cause the limbic system to override the frontal lobe when the brain receives messages. This causes you to act on your feelings instead of logic.

“This Ain’t What You Want” is a series of opinion articles written by author and keynote speaker Willie Spears. Learn more at


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