Having alternatives broadens our range of choices. We can learn to ask ourselves What if… when we consider our next move. What if I do not eat the candy?What if I just say no?What if I decide to eat less today?What if I choose to eat fresh, healthy food?These are the strategies for stimulating the PFC and toning down the drives of the limbic system. Practise What if. all the time.
Survival in those remote times depended very much on a part of the brain called the limbic system. The physical and emotional responses that are driven by the limbic system are very powerful and produce rapid reactions that were certainly very helpful for our early survival as a species.
We can trace reactions such as fear and anger, hunger and the sex drive to the limbic system and one part of the structure in particular exerts a powerful influence in encouraging rapid responses: we are referring to a small, almond-shaped portion of the limbic system known as the amygdala. It prompts instant reactions, particularly in the areas of fear, sexual response and hunger behaviour.
The system is primed to function from birth, prompting babies to cry when hungry and it continues to function throughout our lives, delivering emotionally-charged messages to satisfy instantly the need for pleasure, whilst avoiding pain and dealing with danger. As you will soon see, the key word for our programme is the wordimmediate.
Taking a moment to pause, slowing down the our reactions, considering the alternatives, leaning towards the brain’s higher functioning mechanisms – focusing on our goals – these are deeply effective habits to tame our fear response and control our appetites.
If we can learn to delay the need for immediate gratification, we may reduce the cravings associated with the limbic system’s drive for satisfaction. And the amygdala seeks immediate satisfaction. It does not encourage thought, contemplation or analysis. It demands action. In a dangerous environment, it can be a life saver. In front of temptation, however, it can be our undoing. Postponing gratification has been the subject of intensive research for decades and is the gateway to a much more productive and successful life. Start with the simple decision to postpone the gratification for a few minutes. That’s already a great start. Extend the period of delay gradually until you can postpone the moment forever if you wish.
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