On self destructive behaviour — Are your choices working against you?

When we delve into the inner workings of the brain there’s one thing in particular that draws red flags for me.

Our propensity for developing self-destructive behaviour’s which hold us back from getting the things we want.

It’s very difficult to introspectively see when our decisions are working against us. Particularly when we build these ongoing patterns in isolated areas of our lives.

I could be really good at feeding my cat awesome food but I always forget to buy myself fresh food, so I get takeaway.

Similar behaviours occur in dating, weight loss, relationships, spending and even choosing leaders…

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Yes we are…

If we continue to ignore the most important and valuable truth we can discover about ourselves.

We are not our thoughts…
They are just one part of who we are.

We are two kinds…

A wellness engineer recognises the duality (2 kinds) of experience and how best to use their strengths while mitigating their weakness;

 

1 — Emotions (Fast brain)

Unconscious automatic process.
Reactions, instincts, emotions, feelings
Felt through our entire body.
No ability to reason.
Can never go against our beliefs.
Always come before thoughts.
Low energy cost to the brain.
Dictates >90% of our actions.
Solves complex problems in parallel.
Fully prone to bias.

Our fast brain makes very fast emotional decisions.
Simplified — It compares sensory input to our beliefs, within the context of our mood, to send us a very quick feeling about what is in front of us.

I get a bad feeling about that taxi driver.
I love those shoes.

2 — Thoughts (Slow brain)

Conscious process.
Reason, logic, creativity, cognition…
Perceived to live inside our skull.
Always comes after emotions.
Very high energy cost to the brain
Only accounts for a very small <10% of our actions.
Can only focus on one thing at a time.
Solves complex problems linearly (One at a time)
Potentially prone to bias.

The slow brain takes it’s time, it can rationalise the context with finer detail and over ride the emotional decision if needed.

The taxi driver has a licence and there’s even a camera in the car — Probably ok.
I’ve maxed my credit cards — I shouldn’t buy those shoes.

“When we recognise that our body makes emotional decisions, before we think it though, we can put ourselves in a position to have far greater control of our behaviour.”

This picture makes it seem like our slow brain is better at guiding our decisions, but that is far from the truth. Both our emotional & rational brains can potentially send us down a destructive path.

The engineer anticipates the two scenarios where our emotions and rationality can work against us;

 

1 — Emotional hijacking

Dan Pink uses the analogy of the elephant and the rider.
Our emotions are like an elephant, & our rational mind is like the rider. The rider steers the elephant, up until the moment the elephant sees a mouse and gets frightened. At which point the rider loses complete control of the elephant.

When we get into a very high state of emotion, we “lose our minds” ability to rationalise a situation. It’s caused mainly by a perceived threat, either physical or emotional. But can also happen from excitement or anticipation.

Emotions always align with our beliefs and mental state. Hence if we focus on the things we don’t want, rather than the things we do want, if we become emotionally hijacked we’re at risk of making decisions that work against us.

2 — Back rationalisation

Emotional decisions and reactions always occur before rational thought. So what can happen is, instead of our rational mind analysing our emotional decision and making corrections. Our rational mind to creates a story about the emotional decision that fits with our beliefs and values.

The connections we draw to prove our decisions are of course, comically weak. But it takes far less energy to justify a decision, than it is to change the decision.

We often call these stories excuses.

“I’m going to skip my walk today because I will make up for it tomorrow”.

Is it even possible to make good decisions?

We know our emotions always align with our beliefs,  and our thoughts can rationalise any decisions we make. So how can we ever trust ourselves to know if we’re making the right decision?

Evidence

Pretty obvious one right.
There are plenty of scenarios where we cannot trust our intuition.

“I just feel good about that horse”

The fact is we always make emotional decisions and salespeople know this.
If you’re not an expert, go to the data.
Pick 1–2 metrics and do not deviate.

Eg Buying a car
What is most important?

  • Price + colour
  • Safety + mileage

If you get distracted by the salesperson you could get screwed.

Eg Weight loss
The evidence tells us what about weight loss?
What is the one thing you cannot compromise?

  • Morning walk
  • No alcohol
  • Late night snacking
  • Sleeping more

What ever behaviour is preventing you from losing weight — Tackle it with evidence so you don’t back rationalise a bad decision.

“I’ll have a beer with the boys because I’ve been good for a week”

Knowing your values and beliefs

If we know what drives us, we already know how we’ll respond to experiences. Reducing the risk of emotional hijacking or rationalising a bad decision.

You love a beer — If you think you can go to the pub with mates and not have one you’re being silly.

The belief “I love having a beer with my mates” – Could be the thing holding you back.

Being self-aware is also crucial to choosing where to put your energy and time.

Things that do not align with your values will need far more energy than things that do align. It requires more energy because you’re constantly having to make conscious decisions to act in a way that does not align with your emotional decisions.

Doing this will make you tired, giving you decision fatigue.

People often say to make money doing something you love.
This is great advice because doing something you love will need less energy to take action. These things will just seem more intuitive and easy…

Setting intentions

With any decision, the MOST important thing to know is the goal. To often we act without being aware of what we want to gain.

Once you know what you want, setting your intention to that outcome will help keep your behaviours aligned with that outcome.

It’s helpful to stay present and relaxed while using your intuition to guide your reactions. If you do become emotionally hijacked, or over-aroused you’re at risk of being manipulated.

Intentions are as simple as; I will feel great for the entire day, I will get this deal signed this week, I’ll get $500 off the price of a TV, I will make a new friend at this party.

By setting intentions you give yourself the greatest chance of getting to the outcome you want without being distracted or making excuses.

Self safety check

Simply having one or two questions ready to ask ourselves about any decision, can help us to see alternate perspective that may reveal flaws in our thinking. Flaws that may lead us to doing things that will harm our long-term goals.

“Is it possible I’m suffering from bias, I’m wrong or this is my fault?”

Alternate perspectives lower the likelihood of back rationalising destructive emotional decisions or being overtaken by emotional hijacking.

Wrap up

Your emotions always come first, they never lie and will always lead you to your beliefs.
This is great if you have very good self awareness.

It’s easier for your conscience to invent a story than to make logical corrections.
Not a problem until you get tired with decision fatigue.

Know what you want and make sure your focus and beliefs align to that goal .
Set your intention BEFORE engaging and  ask questions that will lead to alternative perspectives.

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