What illusive thing do you want that you just don’t seem to be able to get happening in your life?
I really do want to have a smoothie instead of a pastry each day. I really do want to cut down on coffee. I really do want to get to Wanderlust festival/hot baths/gala night with my gals. I really do want to get to bed earlier or train for Tough Mudder or stop yelling at the kids or write poetry...
Do you - blame yourself for not achieving it? Think you have a weak personality? That you have no willpower or lack confidence?
What if your brain was actually just doing what it needs to do?
You see for your brain to move forward into the unknown of change, the change has to be approved by the primitive part of the brain - the brainstem (lizard brain or hindbrain it is also known as). This part of the brain has our survival at the core of its purpose. Thank goodness it has that job, right, cos we are still here. The brainstem and its desire for security does a great job at maintaining our safety although yes it can indeed have a lacklustre effect on our ability to move forward, alter our habits with its aversion to change. However the more sinister and lesser known effect the brainstem has on us is that it maintains us enacting habits that could be literally killing us slowly.
So the shocking truth is, that what I will herein call ‘Brainstem,’ has no ability what so ever to future plan.
Yes it can respond to immediate threats and urgent calls, cross the road away from a shady character, produce the paper (just) in time for submission, stop your kid walking too close to traffic and spit out poisonous food. It is also responsible for other instincts that protect us, by having us connect, fight, flee or freeze. And another highlight is that it can keep us humming along moderating our physical states no worries. Respond to the cold, no worries, automate ovulation, got it.
But the brainstem does not take action to protect us or help us survive with behaviours that do not cause us an immediate risk.
Yep, thats a wake up call isnt it. Let me repeat - this leading part of the brain that automates a lot of our behaviours does not take action to protect us or help us survive with behaviours that do not cause us immediate risk.
Have you heard of the frog that died by getting boiled in the water because he couldn’t feel it get hotter?
If you dig into that fatty Thai takeaway or those crappy wheaty processed sugary biscuits and fatty faux chicken nuggets over and over, 50 a day, heck it may cause you cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabites, but brainstem doesn’t stop you. There’s no immediate threat.
Likewise, you’re a workaholic that goes to bed at 2am each night, ‘no problem here’ says brainstem. Stress-induced inflammation? Cancer? ‘Never heard of that’ says Brainstem.
On a less serious note - What about missing your exercise/dance/yoga/meditation practice/6 glasses of water? No problem. Brainstem is happily adjusting your biochemistry to deal with your current activities like checking Facebook, chasing the kids or doing the dishes…
Same with any behaviour that is not critical. What about that deadline in two weeks? Brainstem isn’t concerned in the slightest. You’re surviving right now and there’s no need to push the motivation button to action. In fact the risk of rejection is so strongly embedded in Brainstems wiring that it may keep you from doing it so you can survive (uhumm procrastination). What about planning more social occasions instead of watching Netflix? Brainstem is happy knowing the usual behaviours are in place. What about always letting the same people do the talking in all the business meetings or social gatherings? ‘Doing something different makes me edgy’ Brainstem whispers.
So how do we keep brainstem in alignment with our conscious plans, ideals and intentions for ourselves, whether its for our health goals, wellbeing goals or business goals? Let’s look at ways we can harness the mind’s power to stop killing us or simply killing our dreams slowly...
1 - Recognise the Power of ‘Brainstem’ , Boost the Body Response
The brianstem is our oldest, most primal ally. She needs clear directions to feel safe and secure. Use your conscious rational mind, your neo cortex, to articulate what you are planning to do in the next 5 mins. Be specific. About everything. Then the fear will fade, the anxiety will ease. Action can ensue. Ask your body to move toward that specific tiny-task. (Have you ever had one of those moments where you are frozen in procrastination or worry and then you said to yourself - just pick up the pen, just get in the car with your sneakers or just walk over and speak - that’s your neocortex talking to your brainstem and brainstem feeling safe enough to take the first step - rationality helps out from there.. )
Micro-actions and micro-success is key here.
2 -Combat Stress and Emotional Overwhelm.
Stress can make you stupid as it fuels the emotional and primitive brains’ reactionary tendencies. Make sure you get down time to lower stress. As a practice call on your rational brain by being mindful of your breath at the nostrils, this helps bring attention to the front of the face and the front area of the mind where your rational executive functioning (also sometimes called the seat of the soul) is housed. Also by finding time to engage rationally with your intentions and plans by writing them down with do-able goals or steps you can keep emotional overwhelm at bay. Include what your challenges might be and find ways to work around them as well as supportive resources and activities.
Engaging our rational mind is key here.
3 - Use your imagination to support your intentions.
Maybe you have a time to clearly see yourself achieving your plans or acting out certain behaviours. The more we centre on these feelings and mental pictures the more we are strengthening the neural pathways to create these behaviours in actuality. By now we’ve all read or heard or watched some guy on a brain science show that demonstrated that people who visualise/imagine sports training or musical instrument practice have greater improvement than those that don’t. Myelination (a process of strengthening the synapses between the brains neurons) happens when we place importance on something and when we repeat behaviour. The brain can fire the same neurons with our imaginations than it can in real life. When we include imagining feelings from the body of our desired behaviours those messages are sent up the spinal chord and through the brainstem and limbic system to the rational minds network. Strengthening neural pathways in Imagination is key here.
4 - Access positive peer groups.
Let your community/friendships or business buddies be positive ones that reflect safety in the chosen area of change you are looking for. Brainstem will feel safe and happy to use its mirror neurons and behave similarly.
Positive social reinforcement is key here.
There are more ways to work with Brainstem awareness and the mind, but what’s the point of overwhelming the gal?
Like a ‘100 ways to Stop Procrastinating’ list, if this list got any longer you would never implement anything with your mind as confused as a coconut!
So step out into life and I invite you to choose one of these and act now:
-make the next 5 mins count & direct your energy clearly on the first micro-step
-pay attention to the breath at the nose and front of the mind to get out of stress response
-make time to reflect, plan and create strategies to face the barriers to change
-use your imagination to visualise your behaviour
-get connected with like minded people
If you want coaching for accountability around your goals. Give me a call today.