Sometimes your brain gets in the way.
Why is it so hard sometimes to make changes in our lives that have long-term benefits?
Because of how our brains have evolved. The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that makes us human. It can plan and think about what it’s thinking about. Our primal, lower brain is the same brain that animals have. It wants to be efficient, avoid pain, and seek pleasure–the Motivational Triad.
Change is new and different. We’re not used to doing new things. So the primal brain doesn’t get to be efficient when we’re implementing changes. It wants to go back to doing what it knows how to do and what it’s already good at doing. The easy stuff that we’ve been doing, which isn’t getting us the results we want in our lives.
When we’re making changes in our lives, we’re usually also experiencing discomfort. Whether it’s because we’re waking up earlier, eating less sugar, drinking less alcohol, feeling deprived, moving our bodies more, or spending less money. We’ve been used to the instant gratification, which is what the brain likes–the seeking of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Doing these new things doesn’t give us instant gratification. But it will give us long-term benefits.
How do we push past the discomfort? It’s not by using willpower. It goes back to processing and allowing feelings. And to using our prefrontal cortex.
We use our prefrontal cortex to make plans to implement long-term change. But our primal brain likes to try to override these plans because it wants to be efficient, avoid pain, and seek pleasure. So we make a plan first—and know that the primal brain will try to impose.
If we want to stop overeating, we decide 24 hours ahead of time what we’re going to eat and eat only that.
If we want to stop overdrinking, we decide 24 hours ahead of time how many drinks we’re going to have and have only that.
If we want to stop overspending, we decide 24 hours ahead of time how much we’ll spend and spend only that.
The primal brain will create urges. So when we have an urge to overeat, we have to allow that urge to be there and feel it. Usually the urge will pass if we’re not fighting against it.
When we have an urge to buy something new, we allow it the urge to be there and feel it. And let it pass and stick to our spending plan.
When we have an urge to do anything that deviates from our plan, we allow that urge and let it pass without fighting it or thinking we need to answer that urge.
It might seem impossible. But once you start practicing allowing urges, it can become easier.
Your turn: Think about the last time you did something that seemed impossible for you to do. But then you decided to do it and you did it. When you actually did it, what did you think of it afterwards? The fact that you did it probably felt gratifying and instilled the confidence that you could do it again if you wanted to. What would happen if you made a plan 24 hours in advance and allowed an urge to be there without answering it? How would doing that bring you closer to the results you want in your life?
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