A few weeks ago I wrote an article on only doing things you want to do. I talked about coming at tasks from a place of wanting to do them rather than “having” to do them or thinking you “should” do them. Today we’re adding another piece to this equation: Doing what you want to do rather than what you feel like doing.
When you decide in advance what you want, you’re using your prefrontal cortex, the higher brain. This is the part of your brain that will help you achieve your goals, live your best life, become the person you want to be, learn/grow/evolve, etc.
When you rely on what you feel like in the moment, you are using the primitive or lower brain. The primitive brain is responsible for keeping us alive so it has only 3 main motivations: seek pleasure, avoid pain, be as efficient as possible (no change and no work please).
So when I say “only do things you want to do” I’m referring to things you’ve decided you want in advance. For example: I want to have my ideal body size/shape. But right now I feel like eating pizza. I might think “I want pizza” but that’s not the kind of want I’m referring to when I say “only do things you want to do.” I just feel like pizza right now. That’s my lower brain trying to run the show.
I want to build a successful business but I feel like laying down and watching Netflix.
I want to get fit but I feel like hitting snooze and going back to sleep.
I want to get the house clean but I feel like watching a movie.
Do you see the higher and lower brain at play here? If your brain does this, congratulations, your brain is working perfectly. Remember your lower brain’s job: seek pleasure, avoid pain, be as efficient as possible. Do you have to think about every single step as you brush your teeth each morning? Of course not. You’ve relegated this task to the lower brain. You brush your teeth on auto-pilot. How about walking? Driving? What would life be like if we had to consciously think about every single thing we do? The lower brain does a great job at taking care of this for us.
But there are a lot of things we don’t want the lower brain handling. Many of us have relegated our eating habits to the lower brain. We feel stress, we eat. And often we don’t even realize we did it. It feels like we have no control. It’s simply because we’ve put that response on auto-pilot. If you want to lose weight, you must take all eating choices out of auto-pilot and start making those decisions with your prefrontal cortex.
One of the best ways to do this is by planning at least 24 hours in advance. So with the weight example: I decide 24 hours in advance what I’m going to eat, and then I stick to it no matter what. Guaranteed when it comes to the time of carrying out my plan I’m not going to want to follow it. But that’s just my lower brain throwing a fit and wanting to take back over.
This process works amazing for time management as well. Plan everything you want to get done and put it on your calendar. Then follow your calendar no matter what. If my calendar shows “4:30pm-5:30pm Mow the Lawn” then at 4:30pm I mow the lawn, no matter what. I promise you’re not going to “feel like” following your calendar. The lower brain is often referred to as the “toddler brain” for a reason. It’s going to throw a fit and give you a bunch of excuses and reasons for not doing the thing you said you were going to do.
If you want to live your best life, use your prefrontal cortex to decide what you really want and only let your lower brain do what it does best.
How you do that will be different for every person but I’ll share with you what I’ve found super helpful. I’ve named my lower brain. I call him Frank. So when he says “we don’t want to do that right now, it’s so hard, why don’t we just lay down and enjoy some Netflix instead,” I just answer him back with something like “Yes, Frank, that does sound like fun, but we already decided this is what we really want, remember?”
Talking to my lower brain in this way helps me be the watcher of what’s going on in my brain and helps me understand and remember what’s actually happening. When I get some space from it, the urge isn’t quite as urgent and I’m better able to do the thing I actually WANT to do, the thing I’ve decided in advance with my prefrontal cortex.
Try it out this week and let me know how it goes!