I’d like to kick off this first entry into the Blog Every Day series with a brief foray into the world of your brain, so buckle up!
I may dive much deeper into the finer points in a future post if the interest is there (leave a comment and let me know!) but for know, I’m going to just dive a little under the surface.
What you need to understand is that we have different areas of the brain. Certain parts of it have been around much longer than others, thanks to evolution and the passage of time. Think of the brain as a living thing, growing and evolving as we do the same.
An area like our prefontal cortex (google it…I think those two words are quickly becoming a favorite response, lol) is the new kid on the block and is unique to humans. Wait, possibly to dolphins or whales too? I’m not sure (maybe I should google it). Either way, it’s the most recently developed area of the brain and if it’s not only us that have it, it’s a select few species, but I’m going with only us. (Maybe Flipper, because he managed to get his own tv show, but that’s it)
On the other hand, an area like your brain stem is the oldest part of the brain and has been around for a loooooooooong time. Pretty much any living thing has a brain stem. Well, maybe not jellyfish or beetles…or maybe they do? Again, I’m getting out of my element and off track here. Why are you so worried about bug brains anyways? Jeesh, just bear with me.
Ok, to recap, pfc (prefontal cortex) is us, brain stem (old part) is pretty much every other vertebrae out there. Cool? Cool.
The brain stem controls things like the fight or flight response, urges to reproduce, protect yourself or your young, basic survival type stuff. It is heavily involved in the urges we receive. It’s part of the reason why sex sells and we get so awestruck when we see violence, they connect to a primal part of our brain.
The pfc is all of our higher thinking abilities. It’s critical thinking, it’s decision making, it’s telling yourself that you don’t need to eat a cookie right now.
The problem with evolution is that it’s seldom a quick process. It is with this in mind that I’ll explain that your brain stem has what is equivalent to an 8 lane, mega super highway of communication ability to the rest of the brain. So when it tell you to run or fight for your life, or just to eat something sweet to ensure energy levels feed survival, those messages need to hit your consciousness FAST, or else you could possibly die.
Unfortunately, for the prefontal cortex to then reverse the process and tell your brain stem “wait a second buddy, I don’t think I want that chocolate, I think I can wait,” it’s similar to taking a single lane, winding, gravel, country back road.
Now keeping this concept in the front of your mind, let’s look at how your brain stem could be deceiving you on a daily basis…
When you’re working out are you truly giving it your all? Are you pushing yourself as hard as you can or are you pushing until you think “Good Enough!” and then stopping? Muhammad Ali was once asked how many reps he did (of sit ups, I think) by a reporter and he said something along the lines of “I don’t start counting until it starts burning, because those are the only reps that matter.” I’m paraphrasing there, but you get the idea. I see it too often when training clients. We’ll be going through an exercise, chatting as they go and everything is hunky dorey. Then, they suddenly start to hit a wall and look at me, tears in their eyes, and plead “HOW MANY MOOOORRREEE???” But the funny thing is that even though they were just in what seemed to be agony, when I tell them “just give me 5 more,” they suddenly return to good form, focus on those remaining 5 and bang them out in style.
So what if I said “10 more” … “15 more” … “keep going until you fail!” How many more would they have done?
I’m guilty of this too. I’ll be performing an exercise and my body starts screaming, saying “DDDDDUUUUUUDDDEEE, ENOUGH!!!” There are times when I agree and set the weight down. But then there are those times when I say to myself “No, self, we’re not done yet,” and I knock out another 15 reps, while each one is screaming through every muscle fiber. Those are the times where I can tell I’ve made a difference in the workout. Keep that in mind during your time in the gym. Your brain and body will deceive you, but you do not have to listen. It’s YOUR choice when you stop, and the further past the burn you can go, the more of a difference you’ll make, as long as you’re maintaining good form and not setting yourself up for injury, of course!
Another way your brain can deceive you is by sending you those urges for food and drink that we don’t really need. These are the times that you need to ask yourself, “am I really hungry? Is it my stomach or my brain that’s talking to me right now?” Many times, simply answering that question alone can set you up for success. But other times, it pays to be aware. It pays to listen to your brain and then USE YOUR MIND TO DECIDE. Just because your brain says “CHOCOLATE!!!” doesn’t mean your mind has to say “UHHH, OK BOSS!” Much like your performance in the gym, don’t sell yourself short. Your brain stem will give you quick urges of sweets, salts, fats and more if you’re tired, dehydrated, haven’t eaten enough, are stressed out or upset, having a bad day, having a good day, and a plethora of other reasons.
It’s up to you to decipher those messages and decide if they’re truly useful and appropriate or if they’re simply deceptive and destructive. Many times, all that separates those who have achieved lofty health and fitness goals and those who have not is simply a higher ability to decipher these messages. Activities like meditation, journaling, self-introspection and self-reflection can all improve our ability to be aware. Imagine how much further you could get if you only got a few more reps each set. How much more fulfilled would you feel about your workout if you KNEW, I mean TRULY KNEW IN YOUR HEART, that you gave it your all? How proud would you be if you were able to learn how to identify when your brain was sending deceptive messages about sweets or fats? Think of how much quicker you’d find success in your goals. Not only in health and fitness, but in applying these same tactics to all areas, you could conquer so many obstacles that seem so imposing…just by conquering your own brain.
Your brain wants to survive. YOU want to thrive. Your brain want to live. YOU want to be ALIVE. See the difference?
Do something about it!
Stop selling yourself short. Stop deceiving yourself.
Start using your mind to make up your brain.
Until tomorrow you lovely heroes.