Sweet little liar.
That’s what your brain is. A liar! Think it always has your back? Think again. If you asked it, it would say, “Definitely, I’m here for you!” But what you don’t know is that for the millions of broken promises you made to yourself about losing weight and truly meaning it, your brain has conditioned the body and it’s responses to unfamiliar things, such as changing your eating habits, to hold a very large stop sign in front of you.
No matter how many times your scream at your inner-fatty, you cannot change this complex computer (i.e., your brain) to perform new actions because it needs efficiency. That’s its job. And the brain is really good at efficiency. So when you promise yourself that you are never going to touch that pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream again, at the first sign of an uncomfortable feeling, such as anxiety, or frustration your body all the alarms and whistles start going off and your body needs it’s “fix” of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters to get back to the status quo or the bodies comfort zone.
You see, our brain is such an amazing thing. We are the only creatures on the planet who have conscious thinking and can adjust our behavior. Our brains have evolved to run some seriously complex maneuvers. For instance, did you know that our brains processes 400 billion bits of information every second? It then whittles that data down to about 2,000 of them that our conscious and subconscious will pay attention to. In fact, we think around 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts everyday… And of those, 95% are the same thoughts we had yesterday, and the day before. So essentially, we are just in a continual Groundhogs Day loop for sameness.
As frustrated as we can become with trying to change ourselves or our behaviors, the brain is only doing was it was designed over millennia to do. Keep us out of danger. Early man relied on our brain to go into the “fight or flight” mode by releasing certain chemicals into our cells preparing us to either sprint away or ready for battle. Our brains become so good at sensing dangers, such as a sabre toothed tiger or bear about to eat us, it enabled us to evolve into the magnificent multi-layered humans which have sent rockets to the moon and invented the internet. However, translate that into modern living and sadly, we have mal-adapted to that process.
Today our brain and body perceives certain thoughts and behaviors as dangerous and thus floods us with the dastardly chemicals and electrical signals that say, “Whoa there little lady, just what do you think you’re doing there? Not on my watch…Back you go” and the proverbial little hand gently but forcefully guides us back in to the comfort zone.
Overtime we can mistake those chemical and electrical signals as safe and when in fact it’s just the brain doing what the brain does. Keeping us safe. Doing the same things, thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions is efficient and the body is trained to respond in kind.
Do you sometimes consider doing something new, changing a routine, leaving an unfulfilling relationship or job, or challenging yourself to obtain a new goal? What happens? You get that those physical sensations such as a pit in your stomach or your heart starts to race just thinking about it or, your brain lies to you and you think “it just doesn’t feel right?” Sure it doesn’t feel right. . That’s because your brain like sameness, efficiency and routine.
Your brain lies to you to protect you. Understand this, whether you behave, think and act in helpful or unhelpful ways (such as downing that whole bag of chips while you watch Dancing with the Stars) your brain isn’t judging you. It is simply following the commands you have given to it over the decades of your life. So if you have taught it to be efficient at worry and anxiety then that is the state of being it knows and is comfortable being. Conversely, if you have taught your brain to get your 30 minute walk in every morning before work, it doesn’t care. It doesn’t judge. It’s only following the software you have programmed it to do. So, whenever we try to break old unhelpful patterns the brain goes into overdrive to coerce, cajole, and scare you into stopping that unsafe, unknown, new thing you are trying to do.
So the next time you feel those scary, uncomfortable feelings that come up with change. Stop, sit with them. Allow them. Acknowledge them. Understand that feelings won’t kill you. Reassure your subconscious brain that you are safe and it will be ok. Eventually, if you can endure the onslaught of negative emotions your brain and body are hurling at you, it will start to re-write the brain’s software programs and make new neural connections related to that new habit and those nagging feelings and thoughts will become the new normal.
Like my father always told me, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” So try and remember that you are a work in progress and if all you can do is focus on that one bite, well, you’re that much closer to the goal!