3 Ways to Take Charge of Your Survival Brain
Have you ever hit a bullseye playing darts or at target practice?
The same focus that it takes to hit the center of a target is what’s required to make positive lasting changes. Most of us can focus on what we want for a day or two or three, then old habits return. We really want the change to happen, while studies show that only 8% of people stick to their New Year’s resolution, and the NIH reports that only 25% of heart attack survivors change their habits that would help avoid another attack. We go back to our old habits, even if they don’t serve us.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
There is a good reason why we revert and go back to what’s familiar – survival! Yes, our survival brain doesn’t like change, even if it’s to improve our health. It gets more complex when you add in the thoughts that you are not consciously aware of, thoughts that convince you not to change.
Here are some common ones:
I don’t want to…
You can’t make me…
I’m never going to…
No one’s going to tell me what to do.
It’s thoughts like these that will have your eyes looking away from the bullseye. Your survival brain is focused on what you don’t want: discomfort, disappointment, another failure, more suffering, or feeling deprived. No wonder it’s so difficult to go after what you do want.
There’s a good reason why you do what you do – go off your diet, stop exercising or put off something that’s important to you.
The target you are aiming for conflicts with your survival brain. Your survival and safety will win every time! That is, until you are ready to embrace the new target, and it no longer feels like a threat to your survival.
Are you ready? Okay, here’s what you can do:
1. Welcome the resistance and acknowledge it. “I don’t want to eat healthy right now. I don’t feel ready for this.”
2. Understand what doesn’t feel safe about your target. “I wonder what’s keeping me from eating healthy. I’ve never been able to sustain eating healthy. I’m afraid this will be another failed attempt.”
3. Remind yourself that there is a great benefit to focusing on your target. “I do want to eat healthy because…” “It’s important for me to eat healthy because I will feel better about myself, have more energy, and be available for those I care about.”
To recap, the three ways to take charge of your survival brain are to tell yourself what you are thinking or feeling, and that you are conflicted. Then include why it is important for you to focus on what you want. “I’m feeling scared that I might fail again, AND I want to eat healthy so I can feel better.”
The acknowledgment of the inner conflict between what you want and your survival thinking will reduce the power your survival brain has over you.