I want to lose weight I really do. But I Just keep drinking 10 beers every weekend.
I really want to go to bed early but my God, how good was Game of thrones last night. I need to just relax after work anyway instead of killing myself in the gym
I don’t mind healthy eating but seriously I’m so tired after work, the last thing I want to do is spend hours cooking meals.
Do you have thoughts like these?
Those thoughts where you know what needs to be done, yet you just don’t do it?
Where some days you have everything laid out in front of you to go the gym. You’ve even done a complete weeks worth of food shopping.. Then that time comes to go to the gym and you decide to stay and watch Netflix for the day.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Its almost like there’s that devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
Are You Crazy?
It can be so frustrating dealing with this delay. Every body knows what is good for us.
Are we crazy, lazy and worthless ?
Setting a target every 2nd week and failing to reach our goals. Repeating ourselves over and over again
Or is there something else going on? Why are we horrific at carrying out plans, we say we will commit towards.
Whether saving, training, eating healthier, going to bed at an earlier time.
If we are to achieve a goal, it’s very important to understand why we get these very annoying thoughts that always seem to ruin our goals we set for ourselves.
The Lizard Brain
Have you ever noticed how other animals live their daily lives?. Some great examples are dogs and lizards. Take dogs for example, when they know food is coming, their mouths will salivate. If they hear a loud noise they will run away or bark.
The same is true for a lizard. Their brains just carry out the absolute basics. When they are hungry they search for food. When they get scared they either run or attack. When they need to mate, their brain sends a signal to go search for a partner.
Through the thousands of years of evolutionary change, humans still maintain parts of the brains that are present in dogs and lizards. This area is known as the limbic system.
This area automatically controls our emotions, breathing and digestion.
When we are starving, our limbic system will send signals to the brain to search for food. When we are in danger, it will send signals and release hormones to get you the hell out of that situation..
If you’ve ever heard of the flight or fight response, then this is the limbic system in action.
Back in the day, the limbic system was amazing.
In our hunter gatherer days, the limbic system would warn us when we were hungry.
or, go into over drive when we seen a bear next to our aunties (if you like them of course).
One thing that’s extremely important to remember is the lizard brain wants safety and ease. It wants to relax with lots of food and lots of indulgence.
Its only job is to protect us. The whole purpose of these signals was to keep us safe, have us respond to threats.
All so we could live another day to pass on our genes.
The Lizards Over Protection
When the time comes to change, we are faced with the lizard brain. Remember the only things the lizard brain wants are ease and safety.
If the goal is not perceived as extremely easy, then the lizard brain will let you know. Case in point have you ever noticed how hard it is to get up and press a button on the remote when Netflix asks us are we still watching a program?
This is a constant struggle. Because the lizard brain wants ease and expediency. The brain sees the threat of failure as very real.
Anything that requires effort will be met with resistance. Rather than taking action to look after our health. The brain will make exercise seem like the most difficult thing in the world.
The lizard brain will only make instant changes if the pain caused by not doing anything is worse than not doing anything at all.
This is the reason people who have a heart attack can lose weight in the beginning, only to revert to old habits.
As soon as the realistic possibility of death arises, effort is made to avoid the pain. Great weight is lost and slowly the pain starts to subside. After a while, they are back eating pizza, neglecting their health like nothing changed.
Unless immediate danger like a heart attack forces us to change, then a lot of the time we’ll just procrastinate until we are so stressed we need to take action.
As humans every single one of us have values.
Whereas the lizard has basic needs and values such as security, instant gratification and survival.
Human values are the key areas of our lives that are most important to us. This could be financial freedom, family, health, learning. Absolutely anything.
Most of us have the basic essentials that the lizard brain would have went wild for in a past life. We have shelter (safety) and an abundance of food. The problem is we have a never ending supply of the luxuries the lizard brain loves.
The Lizard Brain Doesn’t care about the future
Unfortunately a lot of the things most important, usually aren’t in our instant radar. We care about health but not until we are unhealthy. Most of us are safe now but how many don’t have any sort of savings and just work pay check to pay check.
The lizard brain doesn’t react to future danger.
Unhealthy habits like Smoking and binge eating just get completely ignored, because it only recognises what’s happening in front of it (think lizard brain going crazy telling us to run when it sees a bear).
Whereas we know that drinking too much is bad for us but because we can’t see the dangers right away, there’s no pain in the lizard brain to force us to change.
All the lizard brain sees is that we have enough food to survive.
Unless tasks are extremely easy and pleasurable (What the lizard brain loves), then change won’t happen without conscious effort.
Make Human Values Conscious.
One of the key ways to act in accordance with our values is to make them conscious. Figure out what is most important to you. Straight away this will shift importance of a task to whether we actually want to do it or not.
A problem for a lot of people is we don’t know what’s important to us
It’s easy to send our true values to the back of our mind. Long days in work. Stress, busy with the kids. All these events take the front of our minds.
We spend so much time just reacting to email, facebook, bills. It’s no wonder we crash at the end of the day, plop ourselves on the couch, feeling like we worked hard but got nothing done.
By making it conscious that we want to change then we challenge the lizard brain. This challenge is the first step to change.
Four steps to Overcoming the lizard brain
So how do we change when we want to change but part of us want to stay the same?
The key to reaching any goal is getting past this anxiety or resistance and still moving forward.
There are four main steps when it comes to overcoming the lizard brain and it’s natural tendency to avoid difficult work.
1) Notice this anxiety or resistance to change
2) Figure out what’s most important to you.
3) Find out why you wouldn’t want to change (cost/benefit of not changing)
4) Make Change as easy as possible.
1) Notice this anxiety or resistance to change.
First thing is to accept that when we want to change it’s normal to be faced with reasons to stay the same. .
Unfortunately fitness or health in general is one of those things that takes a back burner to more immediate issues. Kids are sick, I’ll just skip the gym today. Long day in work, I’ll just give the gym a miss this time. I’m exhausted after work, I’ll just get a Chinese today.
First step is to accept the feelings of not wanting to change. Be kind to yourself and know that it is perfectly normal to want to stay the same.
There’s enough people in the world who will make you feel like crap. Your own mind shouldn’t be one of them. Just recognise that it’s okay to have problems with changing.
2) Keep values at the top of mind
A lot of us don’t actually know what’s important to us, or don’t take the time out to actually ask ourselves. Sit down and write the five most important things in your life. This could be family and looking after the kids.
By reviewing and highlighting what’s most important to us everyday we we make it top of mind. If providing your family is truly important.
Then when the time comes to make tough choices. Between staying in bed that extra half an hour or getting up and training so you have the energy to look after the kids after work. Knowing what’s most important will help shift you towards changing.
There may be times when the lizard brain gets the better of us but more times than not by knowing what’s important to us we can actually work towards our values.
Write down the five most important things in your life. If its kids, then keep reminding yourself when you feel the lizard brain acting up until it becomes a habit.
3) Find out why you don’t want to change
The next step is to identify why you do not want to change. There’s a reason that you’re faced with these conflicting thoughts.
The problem is we are always faced with reasons not to change.
Food is delicious, drinks and junk food after work can be relaxing, we might have failed to lose weight and keep it off numerous times? The thought of all the work, going to the gym, eating healthy is all perceived as difficult by the lizard brain.
We works hard. What’s the point in working hard when we have to eat rabbit food and salads after work.
Even if its subconsciously, we can have this sort of resistance to change. All these thoughts could literally be playing in our mind mind without conscious awareness. We just see it as being lazy, or we let excuses come into our minds as the reason not to train.
It’s not just laziness. We are designed to search for lots of food and only exercise when necessary. Every day life doesn’t require tonnes of exercise unfortunately.
Write down the reasons why it would be better not to change and actually see what is most Important
If you don’t train because you don’t have time because you spend so much time on social media, then figure out is social media more important than your values that you set.
4) Make Change as easy as possible
It’s important to face the resistance to change. The lizard brain loves security and laziness. This why when we want to change, the mind can make our goals seem so difficult to attain.
All the excuses then come as to why it’s better not to change. “It’s too late to train”, “I haven’t enough time”, “It’s the weekend, one slice of cake won’t hurt”.
This is just the brains way of trying to protect us. Most goals require effort and the lizard brain hates effort.
We can overcome this resistance with two steps.
1) Find ONE next action to take
If you know you need to get to the gym to lose weight. Focus on that and that alone. We can get overwhelmed if we try to change too much all at once, so start small.
2) Make the action as easy as possible.
If you’ve followed part one then the goal would be to go to the gym. You may notice that conjuring the willpower can be difficult for this. This is where delay and procrastination can happen.
Your goal here is to make the task even easier than going to the gym. It could be something like “I’m going to go to the gym and spend one minute on the threadmill.”
This gets rid of the vagueness just enough to hopefully get you to the gym. Don’t worry about breaking records, having amazing training sessions or anything like that. There is only one goal and that’s to get on the threadmill for one minute. Since this is so easy, then the resistance to carrying out the task won’t be so high.
This could be all you need to get the ball rolling and start building the habit of going to the gym.
Becoming Healthier is Hard.
Don’t get me wrong guys, behaviour change is hard. It’s so hard in fact it’s the reason we have so many people over weight. Nearly 1/2 people are now over weight or obese. There’s so many reasons to this scary fact. Unfortunately one of the reasons is because as humans we are hard wired to develop bad habits.
The fact is we are always faced with reasons to change and plenty of reasons not to change. Getting healthy can be done, but unfortunately it requires our full attention though, something that is in short supply in our modern day lives.
If you made it this far then thank you. If you like this article then you would love the surprising reasons Sunday’s are ruining your diet and 5 sneaky ways we destroy our diets. If you are struggling to reach your fitness goals then you might like my series here.