Do you ever feel like your own worst enemy? You know what you need to do and how it needs to happen. You fully comprehend all the ways that will guard your health and improve your soul…but then the end of the day comes and you just can’t will-power your way through it anymore. Oh, my love, I know and I’ve been there more times than I would like to admit. However the secret to success is lodged in the mighty brain God created for you.
I remember a period of time that I went through where I could not figure out why I kept back-tracking on all my attempts to become healthier. I wish I could have blamed it on medical emergencies or tragedy, but usually my downfall was a random day that I simply lacked energy and motivation. Then I learned the amazing truth about how different parts of our brain do different things. Once you understand that, you truly begin to have traction in that habit change.
I am going to illustrate this by sharing a story: The Candy Bin at 7:00pm
For years I waged an all out war with the candy bin in the cabinet. Every holiday: Easter, Birthdays, Halloween, and Christmas the girls would receive an exorbitant amount of sweet treats which I then stuck in the cabinet to ration them out at appropriate times over the following months. Well, I don’t know how to describe it except that the candy cabinet got LOUD at about 7pm every single evening. I’d be rushing around, barely holding myself together as I got dinner cleaned up and got the girls ready for bed and then I’d hear every single jelly bean and mini Twix bar calling out to me. It won often and one piece I promised to stop at while washing dishes became fifteen or more by the time I rolled into bed.
When it comes to behavior, neuroscientists have broken the brain into two parts: the higher brain and lower brain. The higher brain is higher functioning and unemotional. It makes the decisions based on facts. The lower brain is in charge of instinctive reactions and involuntary functions. The lower brain I like to describe as cross between a toddler and teenager. It has three main concerns: Avoid pain, seek pleasure, and conserve energy. This part of your brain can get LOUD. Afterall, it sees anything difficult as an emergency needing to be solved in any way necessary.
Guess what!? That candy that I battled with for years never said a single thing to me. It was all my lower brain. At the time of day that I was the most stressed and exhausted it wanted me to stop and have candy. If I was eating candy I was taking a break from my chores (conserving energy), avoiding pain (not standing my ground with cranky toddlers or standing in front of a sink of dishes with an aching back), and experiencing pleasure. However, the moment I swallowed, the situation of chores and children returned and my lower brain loudly offered the same solution over and over and over again.
What I had to do was both learn how to let my higher and rational brain do the driving while speaking lovingly to the part of my brain that was just trying to help.
This is simple. Let me show you.
The lower brain says, “Why don’t we grab a handful of those gummy bears. They tasted so good last night. I love that texture. You deserve it.”
The higher brain replies, “They were yummy but why do you want them? Dinner was filling.”
Lower brain: “I really just want something sweet. These dishes are never-ending. It would make it better.”
Higher brain; “Thank you for offering the gummy bears, but it will be fine. In thirty minutes the girls will be in bed, the chores will be done, and we can sit down for a while.”
Those replies totally worked for me. Eventually, I taught my lower brain that end of the evening chore time was normal and not an emergency.
You can do this too. Your lower brain will scream at you during the most inconvenient times. It doesn’t want to exercise, it wants to watch the next episode and sit on the couch. It doesn’t want a bottle of water, it wants a Dr. Pepper. It doesn’t want to do your monthly budget, it wants to get on Amazon.
The lower brain always wants to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and conserve energy. It is there as a kind of fail-safe to make sure that as human beings we are taking care of ourselves. Now, take a moment and consider that new habit you are trying to establish. Your higher brain probably knows that in the long-term this new healthy habit will help you avoid pain, give you pleasure, and help you save energy in some way. But, your lower brain is only interested in what is immediate. So, how do you turn this around?
Honestly, you are not a mess and you aren’t hopeless. You are just listening to the part of the body that is a fail-safe meant to run the show for your body and protect you. So, learn to work with it but not let it be what is making all the choices in your life.
by Lora Armendariz
You Can Do It!
Do you want to fall out of love with a destructive habit? The first 42 episodes of this podcast are a resource for anyone who wants encouragement and information as they take a six week break from a habit in order to fall out of love with it.