It’s Just a Habit


The problem is that your brain cant tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, its always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards”~  Charles Duhigg

Can cookies make us happy

Can cookies make us happy?

I like to think that I can control of my actions, but I wonder sometimes who is really in charge?  I was listening to a lecture on stress by Elissa Epel, Phd.  She talked about what happens to our body under stress and how it can affect our ability to reach our goals.    If we “know” we want to do something, why is it sometimes so difficult?  I know that to loose 5 pounds I need to stop eating leftover Halloween candy, but alas the candy is gone.

Dr Epel talks about primal instinctual urges which can take over when our thoughtful, ie Pre-Frontal-Cortex brain actually knows better.  The Pre Frontal-Cortex is the part of our brain that allows us to think, plan and control.   It is in charge, basically our CEO.  We want this section to be lit up as it helps us to control our behavior.   So, let’s pretend that we have a goal we want to reach, let’s say loose those 5 pounds.  Why wouldn’t we just do what we know we have to, in order to be successful?

The emotional center brain, Amygdala, really does take over when we are emotional and under stress.   Chronic stress has been shown to impair the functioning of the thinking part of our brain.  Studies have shown that rats will look for junk food for comfort when stressed, ie lard and salt.. and guess what?   it works!  It calms them down.  No wonder we reach for a cookie when we are experiencing stress in our lives….Just like the rat, we are looking for comfort.   So, how do we depend on our “thinking” brain to tell us when to eat rather than our craving, habitual instincts and urges??

One strategy is to exercise the thinking part of our brain in order for it to work for us.   How do we do that?  According to many professionals if we practice mindfulness and/or  meditation we will have a better chance of keeping our responses to stress in control.  Mindfulness and meditation can help our “thinking”  brain to take better charge.   Studies have shown physical changes with these practices.  Dr Sara Lazar, a Harvard Medical School instructor was senior author of a study that looked at MRIs of the brains of subjects before and after practicing 8 weeks of daily mindfulness and meditation.    These MRIs showed increased gray matter in the learning part of the brain and decreased stress and anxiety was reported by participants.

I’ve been trying to incorporate an 8 minute meditation practice into my daily routine.  I have to exercise my pre-frontal cortex!!  Let me know if you have tried meditation and if not would you like to?    Thanks for listening!!

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