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How Our Brains Manipulate Us to Eat Irrationally

How Our Brains Manipulate Us to Eat Irrationally

Do you think you could resist if there’s a pizza fresh out of the oven in front of you? Smells good and looks crispy? Whether or not you’re actually hungry, you probably wouldn’t turn down a slice. If you had to wait 15 minutes for it, would it be easier to say no?

We’re bombarded with opportunities to make unhealthy choices every day. When junk food is readily available, the urge to indulge is even greater. There’s a satisfaction that comes with seeing a warm chocolate chip cookie or an ice cream cone and indulging right away.

You brain is wired to eat on impulse

Our relationship with food hasn’t evolved even though our dining options are more plentiful than ever. Eating high-fat and high-sugar foods when they were available was once a key to our survival.[1] Our brains are wired to enjoy the instant reward we get from chowing down, which leads to the impulse munching you catch yourself doing in the break room or the food court.

When you have the opportunity to enjoy something, your brain gets a hit of dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that rewards us for our behavior.[2] The positive association we make with the action drives us to be impulsive, even when taking advantage of the situation now may yield less favorable results than waiting. Would you rather have the piece of cake now or a beach body in six months?

The brain’s chemical response to these enjoyable situations is amplified by society’s need to have everything right now. Every time we check our smart phones or social media, we are also rewarded with dopamine.[3] We no longer wait for anything, and it’s turning us into dopamine junkies.

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We want it all, and we want it now

This drive to get everything as quickly as possible leaves us chasing instantaneous rewards. We want instant gratification.[4] It’s our need to get what we want as quickly as possible that causes us to do things like neglect our retirement accounts so that we can buy the newest gadgets. Instead of spending 45 minutes preparing a nice home-cooked meal, we head to our freezers to microwave a substandard dinner in five minutes.

We’re all guilty of chasing instant gratification, and it is only through mindful consumption and interactions that we can learn to control our impulses.

You can see the big picture, but you’ll still battle your drive for more dopamine

Society and chemical reactions in your brain set you up to get your reward by the quickest means possible. This is an absolute nightmare for people trying to live a healthier lifestyle.

When you indulge in the hot slice of pizza in front of you, the reward that you get is instantaneous. Junk food really does make you happy. The problem is that too much of it can also make you unhealthy. Exercise can make you happy too, but it takes time to get satisfaction from working out. You have to endure a certain amount of suffering before you can see and feel the rewards.

It is so easy to become lost on your journey to better health when it seems like you have to run the gauntlet of temptation every day. You may know that you’ll live longer and have an improved quality of life by taking care of yourself, but it takes time to see and feel the results. You can feel the joy of that cookie as soon as you eat it.

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Commandeer your body’s drive for rewards

If a person trying to lose weight sees the number on the scale go down, then he or she feels a surge of motivation. People who experience a plateau in their weight loss or fitness goals tend to become frustrated.

We have to change how we think about being healthy if we want to stick to fitness goals. We know that the rewards of living a healthy lifestyle are present every day when we commit. We have the autonomy and physical capability to do whatever we choose. We gain the energy that we need to do challenging and exciting work.

Obesity leads to a myriad of health-problems such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.[5] Many of these issues are life-threatening, or at the very least, they are life-altering.

Feeling tired all the time can cause you to under perform at work, and it prevents you from enjoying activities associated with an active lifestyle. Tired and unmotivated people do the bare minimum to satisfy their requirements, but they don’t innovate and they don’t typically enjoy what they do.

You know what being healthy can do for you, and you’ll have to actively wrestle control back from your dopamine-seeking brain. If you can learn to recognize small rewards that happen instantly when you opt for a healthy lifestyle, you may be able to overcome temptation.

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We are less likely to commit if the reward is not certain

One of the things that makes enjoying immediate rewards so gratifying is that we don’t know what the future holds. Imagine that someone offers to give you $1,000 today or $10,000 10 years from now. Which would you choose?

Even though $10,000 is a significantly larger sum, most people opt to take the $1,000 in quick cash. They may think, “I could really use the grand right now,” or “I might be dead in 10 years,” or “The person who made the offer might change his mind.” It’s normal to worry about the uncertainty of the future and act in favor of the here and now.

When we ignore our long-term health for short-term gain, we will almost certainly end up with nothing. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.” We can’t control everything about our health, but we can certainly put forth an effort and make a commitment to wellness.

Making changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard. Start with small choices such as going for a walk every day or avoiding keeping your favorite snack within easy reach. At first, you’ll crave the instant gratification of lounging on the couch or chowing down, but eventually, you’ll want movement and healthy choices more.

As some point in your journey, the paradigm will shift in your mind. You will appreciate feeling more energetic and less achy, and that reward will overpower your desire to eat a sleeve of cookies. It may take a long time to reach this point, but if you can celebrate small victories every day, you’ll make it.

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Don’t make it harder than it has to be

Making healthy choices becomes more difficult when you try to do everything in absolutes. People who try to become vegan overnight or cut out sugar all at once make their health journey harder. Their first step is so much more drastic, and when they give into temptation, the dopamine hit and the subsequent guilt are also much stronger.

The reward for dramatic change is almost invisible, which means that you’ll lose motivation quickly when you don’t see results. Take small steps toward your goal. Instead of banning all sugar from your diet, cut back on select snacks or tell yourself, “If I want cookies, I am not allowed to buy them. I have to bake them from scratch.” The aspiring vegan would do well to cut out one type of meat at a time instead of emptying the entire contents of their fridge and living off toast and hummus.

You’ve already taken the first step

If you’re reading this, then you are already interested in improving your health. The first step on a journey to wellness is to be more conscious about food choices and exercise. By understanding the forces that could stand in the way of a healthier you, you can make sustainable changes.

Retrain your brain so that its reward response is triggered by different activities. When you make subtle changes over an extended period of time, you’ll readjust your definition of what you find rewarding.

Reference

More by this author

Jolie Choi

Having experienced her own extreme transformation process, Jolie strongly believes that staying healthy takes determined and consistent action.

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Last Updated on September 10, 2019

7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

7 Morning Rituals to Empower Your Day And Change Your Life

Most of your reality is not a given. It is shaped by your expectations, beliefs and thoughts you have formed about it. A big chunk of these beliefs and expectations are encoded into habits you integrate in your daily life.

Yes, some of these habits are formed unconsciously and can be counter-productive or limiting but conversely, you can consciously form positive habits that will transform and empower your life significantly.

This is a powerful point of departure that more and more people are becoming aware of. The most common trait of highly successful people is the recognition of the power they have in co-creating their reality through changing the way they think, believe or expect their reality to be.

One of the most effective ways of changing our belief patterns is through practising and maintaining daily rituals. Ancient traditions had clearly understood the power of rituals in reinforcing habits and changing the way we see and create our reality a long, long time ago.

Once again, if you look into the life history of any highly successful individual, you will find some form of ritual in their daily routine. Some of these rituals may seem banal or eccentric but don’t be deceived by appearances. Rituals are one of the most effective self-empowering tools freely available at the practitioner’s disposal – that is, you!

Below are some the easiest yet life-changing morning rituals you can do every day. Of course, you can have your own afternoon or bed-time rituals but morning rituals are extremely effective in empowering your day since they help you charge yourself before it all starts.

1. Gratitude

Feeling gratitude and appreciation for those little signs and moments of joy happening in your life is probably one of the most overlooked or underestimated rituals. It is a perfect morning ritual to start your day on a very positive key.

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The real power of gratitude is that it makes you pick out and focus on what is working in your life – what is in tune with your being as a whole. It is selectively positive. It reinforces happiness and positivity by shedding light on those awesome things, small or big, that grace your everyday living.

Quite often, we just pick out the pain points, the problems, the bottle necks, whatever it is that is not working in our life and causing friction, anxiety and unhappiness. This is like constantly rewriting the script of your life with a negative or tragic overtone. Your subconscious mind follows faithfully that script you write whether it is a negative or positive one.

So feeling gratitude is undoubtedly an immensely empowering ritual. Start your day by being thankful for those positive things that happened the previous day or throughout the week. It could be something really petty and small. It doesn’t matter. You might be grateful for an unexpected visit from an old friend, a beautiful encounter with a kind stranger, a new opportunity or whatever it is that shines your way. Do it every morning and see what happens during the day.

Gratitude-Quotes

    2. Writing Down Your Most Important Tasks

    This is a very practical ritual. Start your day by identifying and writing down from one to three of the most important tasks you need to complete during that day. These tasks are ones which support important long term goals that are aligned to your purpose, passion or general direction in life.

    For example, if writing a book or building an online community are important long term goals which are aligned to your personal growth, then an important task for the day might be finishing off a particular page or two of the book or coming up with fresh content ideas for the online community.

    What is important with this ritual is that you identify these tasks and complete them as early in the day as possible. Of course, you will have other tasks apart from the ones you will write down but, these are tasks which can be tackled later or batched up and carried out in one go.

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    Writing down your most important tasks in the morning helps you focus your day and life according to what is essential. It helps you prioritize and manage your time better. As a result, you simplify your life by applying your focus and energy on what really counts for your overall life progress.

    3. Affirm Your Goals in Writing or Drawing

    This is similar to the previous idea but different in its application and purpose. Writing down your most important tasks of the day is a way to have a concrete structure of action to follow. Affirming your goals, on the other hand, is a very powerful way of crystallizing your vision and goals in life into your everyday mental space.

    Writing down or doodling your goals on a piece of paper helps you externalize those goals by giving them form. In return, they are reflected back in your subconscious mind and thus, reinforcing them and integrating them more wholly.

    An example of this would be writing down “I am achieving greater success in my career” or “I am becoming healthier and stronger through my exercise.” Notice the present tense being used as a way to tell yourself you are in the process already. Remember the life script we subconsciously follow? You are basically modifying the script to be applied now in the present.

    Drawing or doodling can be equally, or even more, effective  (if you are more of a visual person) as it summarizes a graphical representation of your goals. For example, if your goal is to build a new house or live in another country, you can draw the house or draw things that symbolise the country you want to live in.

    write down goals

      4. Practice Qi Gong Exercises

      According to Chinese philosophy, Qi (pronounced ‘Chee’) means the life force or energy inherent in all things;[1] and Qi Gong is the practice to cultivate and circulate that energy in your body. This may sound esoteric or complicated but actually, Qi Gong is really a set of simple exercises aimed at increasing your health and vitality.

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      There are numerous forms and practices available for free through the online media. As a morning ritual, I recommend following these simple exercises by Qi Gong master Lee Holden:

      5. Drink Hot Water with Lemon

      Simply add a slice of lemon in a glass of hot water and drink one every morning. This is a very simple ritual I follow faithfully every morning.

      Apart from being a good source of vitamin C and a great way of flushing out toxins in the morning, it balances and maintains the PH levels in the body, reduces pain and inflammation in joints and knees and helps nourishing brain and nerve cells. Here are some more benefits of drinking hot water with lemon.

      6. Rise Earlier

      The practical advantages of waking up early are obvious.

      For example, you gain more time for doing exercise such as walking, cycling or Qi Gong as suggested above. You gain more time to be with yourself to reflect, meditate or, more importantly, carry out the other morning rituals.

      So rising early can be seen as a foundation for all the other morning rituals. Many, like myself, find that they are more productive in the early hours of the day.

      Also, various studies have shown that there are many other benefits from waking up an hour or two earlier in the morning. Sleeping early and waking up early helps the body attune with the earth’s circadian rhythms thus, promoting more restorative sleep. Other curious results from such studies show, for instance, that early risers tend to be more optimistic and can anticipate and solve problems more efficiently than the norm.[2]

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      7. Listen to Uplifting Music

      Uplifting music can have a direct impact on our mood, especially in the morning. It charges us emotionally and tunes us into a more positive outlook of the day ahead.

      Most people wake up to music or listen to music as they commute to work. Very often, however, they tune in to a radio or randomly pick a playlist from their device. Being more selective and conscious of the music you listen to in the morning can have a great impact on your day and life in general.

      It’s funny how we try to choose music according to our mood. For example if you are feeling down or disappointed by something, you are more prone to listen to music that reflects that mood – for instance blues, sad songs or downtempo music. This has the effect of reinforcing that mood. What you need to do is the exact opposite and retune your mood by listening to music that beats to a different tune than that mood.

      Try to listen to more uplifting music in the morning even if, or especially if, your mood does not dictate so.

      More About Energetic Habits & Rituals

      Featured photo credit: Carli Jeen via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Live Science: What Is Qi Gong
      [2] Harvard Business Review: Defend Your Research: The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm

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