Do you keep saying there is something you’d like to change, and it’s something within your physical power to change? Something that other people seem to have taken control of, but you seemingly can’t?
If so, then I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news.
The good news is that you can change that habit or behavior which is blocking your success.
The bad news is that you are a liar.
Now before you have the knee jerk reaction of denial or even anger at my statement, let me say something in my defense.
I’m a liar too – and so is everyone else you know. You, your parents, your friends, your neighbors, we are all liars. We are all liars for a very good reason. (It has to do with each individual’s two minds: our conscious and our unconscious minds.) Our conscious mind is working for our unconscious mind and our unconscious mind doesn’t think we need to consciously know anything. It’s happy to keep the whole ball of wax rolling -working behind the scenes, leaving the conscious mind blissfully unaware of the details of how the technical aspects of the show is run.
In fact your mind is doing it right now as you read this. Right now you are feeling a certain way in your legs. Actually it’s lower than that – in your foot or, to be more precise, in your toes. Specifically in that one toe, the one that you can now begin to notice is feeling a little different than the other ones. Have you figured out which one it is yet? Stop, and really notice each toe individually, until you can figure out which one it is that feels a little different.
Got it? Good.
The more you notice it, the more noticeable that different feeling will become. It’s actually been feeling that way since before you took notice of it, but your conscious mind was unaware of it, because unless that feeling was of your toe catching fire evolution didn’t need to design that awareness into every moment of your conscious experience.
And evolution has designed our brains to work in a very specific way. A way that promotes survival. And the fact that you are here today reading this, shows that design works and works well. For most things.
We evolved to survive in environments that were inhospitable and dangerous. At a time where starvation was an omnipresent threat and death lurked around every corner. Because of that, we developed the most advanced thinking device in the history of this planet. And it sits there right inside your own noggin. Our brains were designed to learn quickly, adapt rapidly, and to accumulate more knowledge than any other species ever. And so it did. But there is a problem with too much thinking.
When confronted with a saber tooth tiger, there isn’t time to go over everything one has learned about felines, cross-reference it with what large teeth mean, and perhaps even take a moment to gather more information. There is time to do one of three things; fight, flee, or die. Now the brains that chose dying didn’t get a chance to pass on that “lets think of all the ramifications of this tiger here” thing. But the brains that were hardwired to instantly react, without conscious thinking, lived on and passed it genes on to us today.
Now how were those primitive humans able to react so quickly to danger?
They were able to do it because their limb brain could bypass their conscious brain’s thinking response, and send the body automatically in to fight or flight response. Great strategy on the African Savannah when our ancestors were struggling to survive.
Hardwired to eat whatever scarce food they could find, especially those very scarce items containing fat or those sweet fruits with essential vitamins. Hardwired to react immediately at the merest hint of danger arose and they needed an instant adrenaline dump, rise in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing in order to survive a threat.
A very effective way to program a brain for one trial learning, because if that strategy worked once, why would evolution design a brain that would try to mess with what works? Modern humans with cavemen brains. Our brains evolved quickly and dramatically as far as evolution is concerned. But the evolution of our technology has been hundreds of thousands times faster. Cut to today.
We as Americans live in a world unlike any in human history. Food is abundant and always available. Those same fats and sugars which were once effective cues of rare nutritional value are now part of everything we eat. And that is why obesity and its related health problems are an epidemic in America today. That same adrenaline dump, which worked great for survival when any confrontation was a matter of life and death, now takes place more times in the average L.A. traffic jam than in the average caveman’s month.
And too much of that response literally stresses the body’s systems till breakdown occurs – in the form of heart attack and other stress related conditions. That same ability to indelibly associate one traumatic experience with the fight or flight reaction is where all our fears and phobias come from.
That same one trial learning is why we are all liars. Whether it is losing weight, changing a habit, learning to relax and de-stress, or anything else that involves your thought processes – if you say you want to change your responses, but you don’t do it – it’s because of one trial learning. When you were a child, that was the response which was programmed into your limbic brain. That the “unwanted” behavior was good, valuable, pleasurable – and in the end, essential to your survival.
Otherwise you just wouldn’t do it.
You may consciously, with all the cognitive skills you possess; logic, reason, willpower, etc., truly believe it when you say you want to change. But until you can get the more primitive limb brain to understand why the change is necessary, you are spouting more baloney than a Washington politician in an election year press conference. You are lying to yourself and everyone else, because the part of you that causes the reaction wants to keep you reacting exactly the same way.
But all is not lost. In fact this part of you, which is right now so powerfully keeping you from reaching your goals, is not trying to mess you up. Your unconscious responses were literally programmed into you at a very young age, an age in which you did not yet have the ability to critically think about new information, before you accepted it as being real and made it part of your unconscious response repertoire.
Your unconscious mind, the part of your brain that responds without thought, is literally like a child. And its doing the best it can with a child’s limited ability to understand it’s world. And therein lies the reason you can change. Because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach a child new things, and give them new understandings.
And when you give your unconscious response system new understandings on how and why it would be better to react differently to something ( whether food, cigarettes, stress, your boss, or any thing else) then it changes its reaction automatically, and in fact much more easily than you ever thought possible.
I’ll write more about this on another article. For now simply know that you can change those things you’ve been trying so hard to change, if you are ready to help your unconscious change its understandings. For some people that idea might be a little scary at first. But it sure beats being a liar.