Thursday, April 23, 2015

The # 1 predictor of whether or not you’ll actually reach your goal

Have you ever felt stuck? Like, really, really stuck. That frustrating space where there is something that you desperately want - that you know you are more than capable of getting and for some reason, you just.don’ Maybe it’s losing weight and working out, perhaps it’s work related, or a program or course that you've half signed up for seven times and just can’t bring yourself to finish. Each time you start with enthusiasm, cutting out sugar, blocking off time in your schedule to do what you need to do and it feels so good to be on track to success. The feeling at the start every time is that this will be the time you see it through.

And then you black out.

Maybe not literally - but all of a sudden - you find yourself stalling out. Making excuses, procrastinating, snacking (or binging) and skipping the gym. Pretty soon, you've slipped back into old habits and your goals have been put on the back burner once again. This pattern leaves us feeling like we've failed, leaves us frustrated and hopeless that we just don’t have the willpower, or aren't motivated enough. You’re left with the feeling that you just might not be ‘that kind of person.’

So what does ‘the that kind of person’ have that you don’t? I’m going to say something that might surprise you and chances are you’re going to have some resistance to it. If we truly felt OK with having what we wanted, we’d already have it.

In other words, there is no such thing as self-sabotage and we work perfectly to produce the exact results we are getting, regardless of the goal. I can feel your resistance. “Vanessa - I’m not working to perfectly keep myself overweight! I really, really do want to be fit and healthy!” I absolutely believe you. This is not to discount our desire or even our commitment to the things we really truly want for ourselves. Rather, what I am suggesting is that that very desire conflicts with the number one thing that will enable or prevent you from having and keeping it.

That ‘thing’ is called Ecology.

Ecology is the sum of the three basic needs that we have as a human. It doesn't matter who you are, where you live, what you do or what you want. We are all wired to have and protect these three basic needs. Those three needs are: to feel safe, to feel loved and to feel that we belong. When any of these three basic needs are challenged or compromised we devise masterpiece artwork strategies of self-sabotage.

To understand how we do this, we have to understand how the brain works. For the sake of this piece, we’re going to discuss your “three brains” and how they interact with our three needs (love, safety and belonging) to help us receive what we want, or devise genius strategies to keep it away.

Image courtesy of Holistic MBA

Our evolutionary past:

To really understand how this works, it’s important to remember that the world in which we evolved physiologically was very different than the world in which we currently live. Our lives, safety and thus, survival of our species was often in jeopardy. We were either hunting for food, running out of it, running from our food, or relaxing, loving, playing in our pack. Because that survival was often at stake, it became critical for our brain stems (or Critter brain, as I call it) to carefully recognize and remember pattern. Any time that pattern completed and did not result in death, your brain stem considered that a victory and a safe pattern to repeat. The more times we repeat a pattern ending in anything other than death, the more times your brain stem wants you to repeat that pattern.

In our life now - this shows up as dieting, working out and then bailing or binging. Regardless of how disappointed and frustrated you are - you’re at least not dead. And that’s considered a win for your critter brain. To your critter brain - a pattern completed is a pattern repeated.

Enter the limbic system:

Where your critter brain is responsible for physical regulation and safety, your limbic system is responsible for emotion and is far more concerned with your need for love and belonging.

We’re pack animals at heart. Love is critically important to the procreation and survival of our species and belonging is as well. We need to belong to our pack to survive as young children, to feel loved and then live on to procreate.

The needs are the same as they were as we evolved, but the expression has changed in our new, modern world.

Enter the problem child, the Cortex:

Your cortex is responsible for logic, evolution, growth and change. Your cortex is the part of your brain that is excited about your new program, motivated to lose weight and challenges you to try new things, experience adventure and craves growth. Can you already sense a problem?

If you want to grow, evolve and change, then you have to do just that - you have to change. When you change, your critter brain cannot predict a pattern, can’t evaluate the risk and can’t do it’s job. To your critter brain, you’re as good as dead.

So how does this all show up?

This shows up differently in everyone. From a young age, even before we could talk, we learned the rules of the world through our experiences. Depending on how we were affected by different experiences that were either single and powerful or traumatic events, or simply an experience that was continually repeated in our lives, we wrote our ‘map’ of the world. We determined cause and effect and discovered how different things contribute to, or take away from our needs for love, safety and belonging.

As an adult, we create goals and set out to achieve them. If actually receiving that goal conflicts with any of our three needs however, we will construct magnificent ways to avoid actually receiving it.

Here’s how this shows up:

You want to lose weight. Your cortex devises a plan to start a new diet, decide to cook all of your own meals and workout everyday. It’s working wonderfully and you feel more energized and have even started to lose weight. What you hadn't considered though, is that now, when you show up to the cafeteria for lunch with your healthy, home prepared meal, you’re the only one not ordering from the work cafeteria. No big deal, says the cortex, onto bigger and better things.

A few comments from co-workers are awkwardly brushed off for a few days but after a while and 15 pounds lost, you can’t help but feel like you don’t quite identify with the group in the same way that you used to. You feel a little like the odd man out. Your cortex, concerned with your own individual growth and betterment, tells you not to worry.  Your limbic system however, concerned with love and belonging, isn’t thrilled about this. You can no longer identify with the group who laughs and relates to each other’s struggle to lose weight and share a daily meal together. A few more days go by and the feeling that you’re no longer really one of the group starts to make you feel increasingly uncomfortable during meal time.

Then one day, you oversleep and rush out the door, forgetting to grab your lunch from the fridge. You end up buying lunch that day - no big deal (cortex). What you find though, is that instantly, you feel reconnected to the group. You’re again sharing with them, even if just for a day, that you are back on the same page. Your limbic system is restored to balanced belonging.

The next day, your cortex decides that it’s back to prepping your lunch, and as you do, your mind wanders to the group and how good you felt yesterday, feeling like one of the gang again. You finish packing and head to work. During the morning coffee break, you hear your lunch mates discussing the menu for today’s meal and instantly recognize a feeling of subtle disappointment. Right before you head to lunch, you make the snap decision to leave your lunch in the fridge for later and buy ‘just one more day.’ This time, there’s a noticeable difference in how you feel. You spend another day feeling connected and related to the group and head back to your desk feeling guilty that you bailed on your healthy lunch, but somewhere deep down, is the subtle feeling of relief.

That subtle sense of relief is your limbic system re-aligning yourself with a sense of belonging. One that had been previously abandoned by your simple decision to pack your lunches. Before you know it, you’ve slowly abandoned prepping your other meals and since you’re not doing that, realized ‘there’s no point’ in going to the gym either. This masterful system is carefully constructed through the interaction of your critter brain, limbic system and cortex to keep these three needs in balance at any cost and all under the disguise of ‘self-sabotage.’

The rules you must live by:

What you learned from this experience, likely without consciously realizing it, is that becoming healthy, losing weight and changing your diet compromises your position as part of the group. Perhaps at other times in your life, you learned either by experience or witness, that to belong, you can’t be the thin, or fit if you want to feel included. Perhaps your husband is overweight, or you come from an overweight family. How will you show up to family parties and not eat the food?

This is one example of many. For others, to be thin might be considered unsafe by the critter brain if you experienced trauma in your life in a fitter, thinner state. Your promotion might compromise your sense of love if your husband or wife would be feel inadequate by your higher income. However internalized, without the green light in all three brains, you will do whatever it takes to not follow through enough to get what you want if it compromises your sense and expression of love, safety and belonging.

How to get the green light in all three brains:

In order for transformation to occur, you have to get the green light in all 3 brains. Transformation will not occur if you don’t have a green light in all 3 brains. For this to happen, the critter brain has to say its safe – it’s not a threat to survival. The limbic System has to say it’s not a threat to love or belonging and the Cortex has to be tickled by the idea – “oh, that’s interesting!”

How does your critter brain or limbic system stop you having what you truly want? Share your comments below and join us for more real talk in my private facebook group here.

My coaching programs are founded on getting the green light in all three brains each session to make sure that not only do you feel OK with receiving what you want, but you feel empowered to take action each week to make it happen.

The amazing part of this is that once you make the realization about what is really blocking you, the self-sabotaging behavior doesn't feel right anymore so those impossible tasks like planning, prepping and exercising start to feel natural and exciting.

If you’re ready to feel ready to change and stay that way, head over here to book your complimentary Body Breakthrough Session to sit down with your critter brain and get her on board.


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