We are humans, yes. We are sophisticated in many ways compared to our ancestors and fellow animals. We are equipped with an exceptionally large brain and the ability to use that capacity through our hands to manipulate tools. This robust structure is also used for meta cognition, although there is debate as to where that actually comes from. Alas, we still carry some deep rooted brain responses that served our ancestors well in their environment at the time but may not be as helpful in our present day. Understanding these concepts is incredibly powerful for creating transformation within ourselves.
These innate responses in the brain helped our ancestors survive; they are one of the big reasons why you and I get to be here today. They were used to find calorie dense food through locomotion, hunting, and gathering. They were also used to dodge predators by paying attention to potential threats, survive harsh climates, and to reproduce and thrive through community. The incredible part about this is that we still have these basic tendencies, despite thousands of years of evolution, but now we are in an environment and culture that breeds excess and isolation.
Many argue that we were not conditioned to thrive in this kind of environment, which is expressed as disease and illness of the mind and body. Instead of scoring calorie dense food (from protein, complex carbs, and fat) every once in a while to help us survive until the next big catch, we eat calorie dense food regularly that is processed, less nutritious, and takes very little physical effort to get. Instead of paying attention to immediate threats in our environment to dodge predators, we worry about what happened in the past and what's coming in the future. Desk jobs and delivery services help us sit more. Social media makes us think we are connecting to others with a "community" when we actually have an increased sense of isolation, depression, and anxiety after using it. Okay, so you get the picture. I could go on and on but then I would go out back and kick rocks so I'll refrain.
How can we use this information to our advantage when it comes to creating change or adopting better habits within ourselves? Well, we have two options. We have an area of our brain called the prefrontal cortex, which has one of many tasks to help keep the other parts of our brain in check. When you are tempted to reach for another cookie, the prefrontal cortex tells you to forget it while other areas, like your "reptilian brain", are just trying to fulfill the need to consume calorie dense food. Not to mention the dopamine hit we get from all that sugar! Through what we know about addiction, "will power" alone can be very hard to rely on because it is hard work that requires a lot of repetition, major awareness, and you are up against some pretty primal instincts. It is certainly possible to master but it is difficult to do and so many people give up trying. What would help us be even more successful? Change the environment.
Some things to think about...
Make the behaviors you want easy to accomplish and the behaviors you don't want hard to accomplish.
Give yourself few options to choose from.
Set the bar low.
Don't be attached to your goals. Sometimes the process leads you to something different than your goal and that's still awesome! Follow that.
Perfection is a fallacy.
Put down the phone.
Catch catastrophizing early.
Remember your "why" starting with yourself but then think more broadly. How would doing "x" for yourself affect your family, friends, and community in wonderful ways?
Replace caffeine with naps.
Move often every day. Rest when you need it.
Get outside every day.
Where ever you are, be there.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Look inside for what YOU want. This is YOUR life. This is YOUR body.
Time is finite.
We are social beings. Find your tribe. Connect with others.
Check your sources. Are they credible?
Stick to what you truly can control. Understand the things you can't.
Some books to consider: