I was recently on a webinar and heard a great description about the different areas of the brain and how our behaviours will be ruled by the part of our brain that is engaged and making the final decision. In essence there are 3 different conversations happening in our brain which is true for everybody but it is a question of which conversation we decide to listen to.
I could see how this applied to my life and as well to the lives of my weight loss clients.
As you have likely experienced, sometimes you may find yourself reaching for food and making choices that you know are going to sabotage your efforts towards your goal, yet you cannot seem to stop yourself.
Well, which part of your brain is in charge in that situation?
Think of your brain as having 3 parts to it.
We have our more primitive brain, the Reptile Brain. It functions from a place of survival and is governed by our fight or flight response. It can serve a purpose when necessary but when we are overwhelmed by stress and our calming strategy is food guess who is in charge – the reptile brain. It is purely reactive and just wants us to survive.
The Monkey Brain is like a toddler, who likes shiny new things, wants to be kept comfortable and wants what it wants when it wants it. The Monkey Brain only has past experiences to determine what is going to keep us comfortable and what is going to be uncomfortable for us.
So if you have certain habits, such as that sweet in the afternoon, the glass of wine after a long day, socializing based on eating and drinking, hitting the snooze button rather than hitting the gym, deciding on meals at that last minute, then your Monkey Brain is used to these behaviours and associates making changes to these behaviours as risky and uncomfortable so it wants to keep the status quo. It will take the past and try to recreate the past now and in the future.
Obviously this is not ideal when we know we need to make some changes in order to achieve our goals.
So when you decide you want to lose weight or do what is necessary to maintain your weight, if your Monkey Brain decides that making some of the changes are risky, just because it is different and it is going to be uncomfortable then you will likely find yourself resorting back to past behaviours despite having a goal. It wants to keep you safe.
The 3rd part of the brain is the Empire Brain and is in the prefrontal cortex. It is the part that will function at a higher cognitive level, will set goals, will stay on track to achieve those goals and it can override the discomfort of stepping out of the usual patterns. It will see change as a step closer to your goal and it will not perceive that change as risky. When making decisions from this part of your brain it will be okay with getting a bit uncomfortable because it can maintain the focus on the more complex vision you have of your future.
Needless to say, when making decisions that require you to change some of your behaviours in order for you to achieve your loftier goals, those decisions need to listen to the Empire Brain.
Your Monkey Brain is like a toddler and the more it feels it is not getting its way it will scream and yell for your attention so how do you shift your attention to the Empire Brain?
The first step on a journey towards change is to raise awareness and be able to recognize which brain is running the show each time to need to make a decision and take action.
A great exercise to help with this is to focus on the excuses you use when you are not doing what you know you need to do. What story do you tell yourself when you need to let yourself off the hook? The Monkey Brain is great at creating a story to justify not taking that “perceived risk”.
So just be curious and listen.
“I don’t have time, I’m tired, I deserve a reward, I don’t feel like….., I don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable,”etc.
Listen to your excuses and stories without judgment and take note. At any given moment the excuse you are using may seem quite justifiable. But over time as you observe your excuses, you will likely see that there is a pattern to these excuses and it whittles down to just a few of them.
This is just your Monkey Brain creating a story to keep you “safe”. So when you realize you are using one of these excuses, then take a deep breath, cut your inner monkey some slack, say “thank you but I got this” and then engage your Empire Brain.
At that point you can calm your inner monkey and make the decision to listen to your Empire Brain so you can take the necessary action steps in that moment to move you closer to your goal that ultimately will be better for you.
This applies to following a plan to lose weight, sticking to healthier habits to maintain your weight as well as prioritizing any other areas of self care in your life that require you making some changes to your habits.