I acknowledge this is very simplistic so for those of you that understand the workings of the brain, my apologies. I am going to explain it in a way that makes sense to a lay person, like me. This level of understanding has helped me a lot over the years and I want to share it with you.
We have two brains…our PRIMAL BRAIN and our more EVOLVED BRAIN, or our prefrontal cortex.
Our PRIMAL BRAIN is all about survival. It wants to avoid pain and find pleasure…both of which it was evolved to do in order to help us survive. This was great when it was all about finding shelter (avoiding pain) and eating food (seeking pleasure) when there wasn’t a lot to be found. Today, this brain is the spoiled little kid that wants immediate gratification, doesn’t want to be told no (pain) and is always seeking reward and approval (pleasure). We all have this spoiled little kid within us who doesn’t want anyone to tell us no, especially now that we are grownups. It is the part of your brain that is worried about being ‘deprived’ if you don’t eat the cake at the party.
PRIMAL BRAIN = FOOD & PLEASURE SEEKING, SEX and INSTANT GRATIFICATION
Your prefrontal brain is more evolved. It is logical and interested in your future. But…it isn’t without its own drawbacks. It’s the part of your brain that accesses your self-awareness. It is the home of your imagination. It is the part of your brain that creates emotional pain and suffering through the stories it tells itself.
EVOLVED BRAIN= SELF AWARENESS, IMAGINATION, LOGIC, PLANNING and DELAYED GRATIFICATION
In the past this imagined stress might have meant you were going without food or shelter and so our primal brain would kick into high gear and tell your physical body to seek food and pronto! Today, our major stressors have nothing to do with lack of food or shelter typically but our primal brain doesn’t know that. The evolved part of your brain understands delayed gratification. It’s the part of your brain that pays your bills and brushes your teeth because it understands the long term consequences of not doing that.
We just have to translate that same logic to our eating and our health. We have to start letting the evolved brain be in charge.
It is extremely important to note that when your primal brain is engaged (sympathetic response), your modern evolved brain is not working much. When the primal brain turns off and the evolved brain kicks into gear (parasympathetic response), rationality returns, bringing back clearer thinking. Herein lies the reason we need to plan ahead and then we need to stick with the plan.
How does this all relate to your health and wellness?
While your evolved brain is active, plan your meals in a logical way, taking into account your long term goals. The same can apply to your workouts. Plan your workouts, or your workout schedule, ahead of time and then DO NOT DEVIATE FROM THE PLAN.
If you wait until you are hungry to decide what to eat your stress response kicks in, your primal brain takes over and it is virtually impossible to make a good decision. If you wait until you feel motivated to workout you just won’t.
And again, this bears repeating, once you’ve made a decision…stick with it. The more decisions you need to make, the worse you’re going to be at weighing all the options and making an educated, research-backed choice. This is called ‘decision fatigue’ and is one of many things that can kill your focus and your motivation. So stick with your plan 100% of the time. If you are only 98% committed you are still in decision making mode and that is where we make mistakes.
You need to use your EVOLVED BRAIN (PFC) to make proactive decisions about your health. Our primal brain can only make decisions in the moment. Our prefrontal cortex can make decisions ahead of time. Let your evolved brain act like the parent and your primal brain like the 2 year old child that you love. Trust that your evolved brain knows what is best, even if your primal brain is having a temper tantrum. 😉