Being Human – A User Guide – Anne Burton



If, in a busy and confusing world, you are wondering why we haven’t got it all figured out by now, Being Human Today is here to look at the possibilities of why that might be and how we can do things differently

“Full of humour, common sense and a really useful insight into the qualities which will help us all achieve contentment and satisfaction in our stressful and often chaotic lives.”

Elle Hird

All computers need a capable operating system to support the smooth running of programmes and applications, and the supercomputer that is the human mind is no different. Yet, even though it sounds crazy, most people go through their lives without ever having read the manual.

Whatever we do in life, whether our goals are large or small, having a User Guide to help us understand the core components of our human operating system, vital cogs such as Consciousness, Communication, Connection, Courage, Creativity, and Compassion is a must. It will ensure we remain resourceful, resilient, and well throughout the journey.

This is Book 1 in the BEING HUMAN book series


“Focused, meaningful, relevant: this is the sort of no-nonsense, clear and insightful book you want to carry in your pocket and refer to often.”

Natalie Debrabandere


We have an incredibly complex brain that has evolved over time by adding on new thinking capabilities in new areas of the brain as our neurology developed. This is a bit like adding on an extension to a building; the old part is still there, but now you have some new space that is more up-to-date and can be used in ways for which the original building was not suited. So, what we have isn’t so much one single large brain but more like three brains stacked on top of each other, working with differing levels of consciousness so that we can focus on specific tasks without having to consciously take care of everything that is going on in our mind and body.

To explain this a little more, just imagine, for a moment, that your brain is like a three-drawer filing cabinet with one of those little wire in-trays sitting on top of it.

In the Bottom Drawer

This is the oldest part of your brain where all those things that your mind does for you and that you never have to be conscious of are stored. Things like the way it keeps you alive while you are asleep, digests your food, sends out antibodies and white cells to heal and protect against infections. It regulates your breathing, your temperature, manages your hormones (or not!), heals wounds and generally does a pretty fantastic job of running your body and keeping you alive. The bottom drawer contains all your basic instincts; it lets your conscious mind know when you are hungry, too hot, too cold, or thirsty. It lets you know when there is a threat that you need to run away from or fight and when it’s time to pass on your DNA to the next generation. Many thousands of years ago, this was all we needed; our existence was all about the survival of ourselves and our species, and that is what the bottom drawer takes care of.

The contents of the bottom drawer are already in place when we are born, and the processes run even before we make our appearance in the world. This is not to say that all this runs in isolation. The basic processes continue to run in the same way, but what causes them to run changes as we grow and learn. The two things that scare us instinctively are loud noises and a feeling of falling. If this remained the same, we wouldn’t last very long when faced with, say, a large hungry carnivore, so we must learn what does and doesn’t pose a threat to us. This is where the second or middle drawer of your brain’s filing cabinet comes in.

When we have an experience, the information from that experience gets into our brain through our five senses of sight, sound, feeling, taste and smell for processing and action or filing for future reference.  

There is a lot of information in an experience beyond what we can process and hold on to all at once; so, our brain focusses very quickly on what it thinks the important elements of the experience are. It does this very efficiently but, as you will see, not always very effectively. We will either delete some information from the experience as irrelevant, distort it to fit something we have experienced before or generalise it to group it together with other similar experiences and save processing time the next time we have a similar experience. Sound complicated? Here is an example:

A small child is in the park for the first time since he/she started to walk. A safe and trusted adult is holding his/her hand. It is a warm sunny day, and other children are playing and laughing close by. As they walk through the park, a dog, passing in the opposite direction with its owner, barks excitedly at a ball that has been thrown. None of the other children notice, and the child’s parent is still holding his/her hand safely, but the child is startled and Deletes all the information that indicates that he/she is safe. He/she then focusses entirely on the loud noise coming from the dog and gets scared and cries. The child’s parent is surprised by the sudden crying for what seems to be no apparent reason and quickly scoops the child up to find out what the problem is, inadvertently reinforcing the belief that there is a threat.

On another trip out a few days later, the child sees a similar dog. The middle filing cabinet produces the nearest similar experience focussed on the dog, to save processing time (because our brains are efficient like that), and the child is scared again as their brain Distorts the image of this dog to be the same as the last dog (i.e. loud and scary). So, now the child has two experiences where they have felt unsafe in the presence of a dog despite all evidence to the contrary, and the brain then Generalises these experiences into ‘All dogs are scary’ which saves a lot of processing time whenever a dog is close by.

This information gets stored in the middle drawer but can be passed very quickly to the bottom drawer. Whenever a dog is present, where a small almond-shaped part of the brain called the amygdala acts like a burglar alarm and sets of the fight or flight response, and the body gets ready to run or fight or hide.

You can see how this would have been a very useful and life-extending skill to have when the threats we were facing were very real threats to our existence. Being able to respond quickly without having to stop and think could make the difference between having dinner and being dinner, but our brains do this with all of our experiences. They get filed in the middle drawer where they form our blueprint of what the world is like and who we are in that world. Even if, for example, the experience was about how to use a chair or that it’s a good idea to look both ways before you cross the road. It would either be a waste of brain space or even dangerous to have to figure either of these out every time we had a similar experience – a different chair or a different road – but our brain does not hang about to see if the pattern is rational or helpful; it only cares that there is a pattern and will go with the closest similar experience in the filing cabinet every time. This is why we get ready to run or fight when faced with the perceived threat of an overdue bill, getting cut up on a roundabout or a meeting with the boss.

All our experiences are interpreted, compared and stored in this way. We scan the filing cabinet to see if there is anything similar to our current experience in there and then use that to guide our response and behaviour to this event.

This is where stress can start to become a problem for us. The bottom drawer processes responds to some information from the middle drawer that says there is a threat present and sets off the alarm. Adrenaline and cortisol flood through our body in preparation for running or fighting, which, if we do run or fight, will be naturally used up in the process. When the threat is an unpayable bill or yet another red light that is going to make us late, there is no fight to have and nowhere to run; so, all the chemicals that have been released in preparation for that have no job to do and can have a detrimental impact on our health and well-being. Becoming more aware of what meaning we make of things and consciously recreate that meaning can go a long way towards taking some of the unnecessary and unhelpful stress out of our lives.


“This book is a massive eye-opener about how our minds really work. About the tricks we play on ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves. The stuff we believe about ourselves that keeps us small. But most importantly, this book is about what we can do to overcome all those limitations really quickly so we can live a very fulfilling life.”

R Jansen


Anne Burton was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1965. Before starting to write the BEING HUMAN book series she worked as an accountant in industry. Here she learned first hand how difficult change can seem and how the way that we live our lives has, for many of us, become disconnected from what we need to function well as human beings. This realisation lead to her passion for understanding why we do the things we do and what determines how we experience the world we live in.

Many years of study and experience lead to the publication of “Being Human – A User Guide”, which was then followed by the second book in the series “Being Human – The Mind Reboot”. The Purpose of the series is to highlight what our minds do naturally and how we can work with this understanding to get our own way and experience more or what we do want in life, and less of what we don’t want.

“I wanted to write this book because of what I have learned over the last ten years about how our minds work, how that influences the way we raise our families and interact with each other, how this affects what we believe about ourselves and the experiences we have in our lives. I wrote it because the contents of this book have helped me enormously and because I wish I had known about it sooner, when my children were babies, because there are things I would have done differently. I wrote it because I wanted to share what I have learned so far in this experience of being human.”

Anne Burton

Being Human Today website