Why do we vow at 8:30 a.m. not to eat any more sweets, yet at 3:30 p.m. we’ve got our hands in a co-worker’s candy stash?
Why do we sign up for a gym membership we rarely use?
Why do we say we’re going to remain calm and rational during an intense meeting, but twenty minutes into it we’re red-faced and shouting?
Because we still have the brain of a caveman.
That’s not a personal insult directed at you – you really do. There are three major portions of our brains, two of which are still quite primitive. They are responsible for breathing, heart rate, fight or flight, survival and emotion (what I call caveman brain or Sneaky Pete). The other portion is more recent in our development and controls higher functions of thought and reasoning in accordance with internal goals (what I call advanced brain).
It’s important to note that during times of stress, caveman brain completely overrides advanced brain.
When we experience or create too much change, it creates stress, the fight-or-flight response is stimulated, and caveman brain overrides advanced brain. Caveman brain wants to know why anyone would EVER eat less and go to a gym with bright lights, loud music and unfamiliar equipment in order to expend excess energy. To caveman brain, these things are a threat! Threats are a stress requiring defensive action – fighting or fleeing. Caveman brain takes charge and wants to keep us safe, feed us, and make us happy. This means bailing on a gym membership, flaking out on a meal plan or “forgetting” to plan a healthy dinner.
A great strategy for behavioral change is to sneak up on your caveman brain. You’ve got to slip a new behavior past caveman brain without waking it up. This means the behavioral change needs to be small, doable and nonthreatening.
You’ve got to make it so easy a caveman could do it!
Here are four critical steps for successful behavior change:
1. Identify ONE simple, clear, practical and very small action step.
2. How confident are you that you can do this task every day? Make sure it is at least a “9” on a scale of 1-10. If your confidence is less than 9 or 10 make the task simpler and easier.
3. Put it on your calendar. Plan the exact time and place you will perform the new action.
4. After doing the action step, log it and write how you feel afterward. Identifying your positive feelings recruits the emotional caveman brain and gets it on board with the program!
For instance instead of saying “Tomorrow I’m going on a diet and eating only healthy foods” – which gets your caveman brain all riled up because it’s designed to keep you alive by eating high fat, high sugar foods – you could say “I’m going to eat 3 one-cup servings of fruit or vegetable each day.” Plan on eating 1 one-cup serving at each of your three major meals. If 3 one-cup servings are too many for you, start with what you KNOW you could accomplish.
After eating each serving of fruit or vegetable, log it and write about how it makes you feel. “I’m proud of following through with my action step right now. I’m on the road to taking better care of myself and the journey is made of many small steps. One of which I just took.”
What’s one simple, clear, small step you can take today to improve resiliency, performance and health?