Understanding your Brain to Get What You Want

Understanding your Brain to Get What You Want
Claudette Pelletier-Hannah

Do you ever get in the car to go someplace and you end up heading in the same direction you usually go? That’s your automatic pilot, or your subconscious mind at work.

As we start the new year, this reminds me that if we don’t have a vision for the future we end up repeating the past. In other words, the next five years can look exactly like the last five.

When you think about losing weight or kicking a bad habit do you get this feeling of dread, shame, overwhelm or guilt? Maybe some of your attempts have been, well, less than fabulous?

If you’re going to work at weight loss, or anything else in the future, and you feel dread, it would be a good idea to change your thinking about it. Why? Thoughts influence Emotions. Emotions have memories. Everything that has ever happened to you is all remembered in the subconscious and will likely repeat itself like a broken record. Dang!

It’s the job of the hippocampus in the brain, which is central to memory and learning, to compare incoming information with past threats. It asks the prefrontal cortex, “Have I experienced anything like this before?”  And the PFC says, “Why, yes you have.”

That threat signals the amygdala in the limbic brain to get involved and to sound the alarm. Now all the stress responses kick in. Notice that we don’t have to repeat the past experience. We just have to think about it, or be subconsciously triggered to be catapulted into the fight, flight or freeze response. Our brakes engage.

And that’s the shortest explanation about why we repeat the past. If you haven’t achieved what you’re shooting for there are likely emotional barriers in the way. If no threat is detected it becomes new learning. Bravo!

So what do you want? What’s your vision for the next day, week, month or year?

  • improved relationship with food?
  • more mindfulness?
  • better coping strategies for stress?
  • stronger boundaries?
  • body acceptance?

It takes some effort to move beyond the conditioned forces of what our mind and body know and remember. We need to build new neural connections stronger than the original that conditioned that well-practiced response.

There’s a reason we talk about vision. You need to be able to see it to be it. Practice visualizing what you want – exactly like you’d like it to happen. When you get interrupted by negative emotions, panic, stinkin’ thinkin’ or anything that is incompatible with the vision, calm your mind, calm your body, then go back to the vision.

Unfortunately, due to our reptilian brain, whose job it is to protect us and keep us alive, we’re much more likely to be alert to and imagining threats than opportunities.

If you want this year to be different than the last you have to imagine what you want – over and over again until you get there.

Learn to calm the mind. Calm the amygdala. That can be done in many ways. My personal favourite way is EFT tapping. What’s yours? You know you’re succeeding when you can think about the goal without arousal of negative emotions or stress responses.

If you need help with your weight, or with calming your amygdala, I can help. For driving to your next destination try Google Maps.