WHY RESOLUTIONS FAIL: The Brainstem is stronger than your Willpower
Posted by Administrator | November 11, 2017 | Blog
10. 9. 8. 7…the ball is dropping, you hear the song, see the confetti, feel that sense of hope, renewal…HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!! We all know the scene. And with it comes the promises of all that we will do better this year! This year…this is the year! We all want to do better or be better at something. Less time on social media, more quality time with the people we love, eat less carbs, exercise more, better at work…whatever it is, we want more or better. We promise it to ourselves and believe that if we resolve to do it, it will get done.
So why is it then that within a week or two our resolutions go out the door. And with their exit, we welcome in guilt, self-judgment and criticism. I’m a loser, a failure, I’m weak. I can’t keep a promise to myself.
Here’s the problem with resolutions, they focus on changing a behavior without looking at what actually drives behavior!
Science shows us that we behave according to what we feel and think, NOT according to what we know or what we promised ourselves or how much willpower we have. Here’s an example, we have the knowledge of what it takes to lose weight, eat less calories and exercise more. So then how come most of us are still trying to lose weight? It’s NOT about what we know. It’s not about what we promise ourselves and it’s NOT about willpower.
What is it about? It’s about the underlying behaviors that come in to sabotage what we WANT! Blame it on YOUR brain. Resolutions fail, because there is a part of your brain that is MORE powerful than your will power that hijacks your behavior and if you don’t SEE these hidden culprits, they take you down, EVERY time and leave you holding a bag of guilt and blame.
So what is it that beats my willpower? My brainstem! This part of the brain is wired to react EVERY single time I’m faced with a problem, a challenge or what I call a ‘Don’t Want’. Doesn’t matter how big or little. I don’t want to be stuck in traffic, I don’t want my kid to be crying, I don’t want this extra assignment at work, I don’t want my partner to be upset. ANY and every DON’T WANT is read by this part of the brain as a threat. This then causes us to automatically go to reaction and you have three options: fight, flight and freeze.
Here’s the important part, these reactions are sneaky and hidden. You don’t see them, you don’t know they are driving your behaviors and you don’t know they are undermining what you REALLY want. I don’t want to eat carbs. I come home and my child is crying. My brainstem says I don’t want her to cry. I feel frustrated or overwhelmed, brainstem says “threat…get away”, FLIGHT reaction, I run to the kitchen to avoid the stress of a crying child and comfort myself with food. I find myself eating the chips and then chastise myself for being weak!
Bottom line, when we are faced with ‘Don’t Wants’ and trust me we are faced with a truck load of them all day long, your brainstem does not care what promise the top of your brain the cortex, the reasonable, logical part made on New Year’s day. Your brainstem is designed to help you survive and to survive the current threat. It is not a long-term planner. It cares about dealing with the threat that is in front of it right now! It is VERY powerful and often it over-rides our higher brain without us even knowing it. This is the reason why we often behave in certain ways and then say to ourselves “why did I do that? I know better”. Blame it on Your brain…the brainstem.
The good news is that we can get around the brainstem. It doesn’t have to rule or undermine us anymore. We can get what we REALLY want. The key to this is first SEEING the sneaky ways that it shows up. It’s like seeing the cat burglar before they get into your house. The moment you see the burglar, he runs away. You have got to SEE the hidden ways that your brainstem drives you to react in many situations. Seeing is the most important step to doing something because, you can’t change what you can’t see! So this year, don’t resolve to change a behavior, resolve to SEE what’s blocking you…your reactions!
Next, once you can SEE the behaviors, you can use the principles of neuroplasticity to rewire how your brain handles ‘Don’t Wants’. Get past the brainstem to access your higher , more reasonable, logical self. There is a WAY to do this.