Hey, there. Now that we’ve met, let me introduce you to some of the other characters who hang around this website.
First up, meet your inner lizard.
The inner lizard is my term for the old, pre-mammalian parts of the human brain that are relevant for motivation and habit change.
These parts of the brain are responsible for keeping us alive on a day-to-day basis. Our inner lizard has no interest in the works of Shakespeare, the beauty of a sunset, or Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Its jobs are to look out for predators and to find food.
brain: let's talk shall we
brain: are we being chased
brain: are we chasing something
brain: so wtf are we doing then
heart & lungs: we also have questions
— Grant Tanaka (@GrantTanaka) February 26, 2018
The lizard has no interest in unnecessary physical activity, because what if we tire ourselves out and then the lion attacks? It wants us to eat all the sugars we can find, because energy is scarce and who knows when we’ll find more food?
Our lizard can be an important ally or a huge impediment when it comes to lifestyle and habit change.
If the lizard is motivated, it gets the rest of the body moving. Conversely, if the lizard doesn’t want something, it’s incredibly hard to make that thing happen.
So how to get the lizard to work with us rather than pushing against us? Here are three suggestion.
Speak to the lizard in language it understands.
Find ways to allow your ancient instincts to motivate you. This is the idea behind Zombies, Run!. If you hear the shambling dead groaning right behind you, the lizard quickly gets on board with the idea of running as fast as possible.
Give the lizard something it wants.
Pair a reward the lizard understands with a task you need extra motivation for. This reward can be as simple as a sugary treat, but it can also be reasonably sophisticated.
To keep my motivation for my weekly volunteer work high, I set aside a certain amount of money at the beginning of each month, and ‘pay’ myself after every treatment I provide at the rehab center. Even though the money is only being moved from one envelope to another on my budgeting app, it satisfies my lizard’s desire to stockpile resources.
If for whatever reason I don’t do enough volunteering during the course of a month, the remaining money goes to charity. Which intellectually I am all for, but my lizard would rather the money be in my emergency fund.
Retrain the lizard
Your lizard may be old and slow, but it’s not stupid. If every time you eat junk food you feel sick, or every time you go for a run you feel great afterwards, your lizard will eventually stop pushing you towards the junk food and objecting to runs. Yes, it really will. The catch is that you have to actually take the time to feel what is going on in your body, see what feels good and what doesn’t, and understand what causes which. The lizard is only going to pay attention if you do.
Mindful eating can be a very educational experience if you want to show your lizard how different foods affect your body.
Next post, I’ll introduce another member of the internal zoo, the inner monkey.
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