A Look Inside Your Brain: Part 1


We talked in Part 1 about how consistently making good choices through small, actionable goals is the essential process for creating the bodies we've always wanted to have. But our story gets even better. There are different aspects of our psyche that we can control and tweak. That means a lot more tiny steps and a lot more victories over time.

There are several different aspects of our consciousness that work together to help us make a decision. When we see a delicious bowl of ice cream, part of us politely declines while another part of us wants to bury our face in the bowl. When the alarm goes off in the morning, part of us knows to get up, and another part wants to laze around all day.

Our conscious mind is the 'decision-maker'. This is our emotion-free analytical side. This is the side that does the taxes, and tells us to get out of bed in the morning. The conscious mind serves as the Conscience, the Jiminy Cricket, if you will. This is our control center that chooses the path and helps tell us what to do.

Our unconscious mind is our emotional, pleasure-seeking side. The unconscious mind often wanders, and seeks comfort. This is the part of us that loves deeply, experiences fear, and gets embarrassed. This is the side that gives us a 'gut feeling' and tells us to stay in bed in the morning, or eat some more ice cream. Our unconscious mind simply wants to be comfortable. It thinks only of the now and never of the consequences.

These two components in our brains, the conscious and the unconscious, are sometimes at odds with each other. Sometimes the unconscious wants to pretend to be sick and take the day off of work, but the conscious mind knows that there is a big project due and skipping work would be a bad idea. The conscious mind can dictate our actions but only for a little while.

Our willpower is a finite resource.

There was a famous study that demonstrates this concept. Two groups entered a room with a bowl of either cookies or radishes, and both groups were told, 'Don't eat the food'. Both groups successfully avoided any temptation and no one ate a thing. 

Both groups then left the room and were instructed to solve a puzzle. The puzzle was a maze with a trick; it was impossible to solve. Testers measured how long it took for the subjects to give up on the puzzle, in short, how long it took them to become frustrated and give up. Guess which group gave up faster? That's right, the cookie group. Their willpower was exhausted from passing up on the delicious cookies. The radish group had no problem leaving the radishes alone, and therefore was more patient with the puzzle. The conscious mind can direct our actions and avoid the cookies, but this expends a lot of mental energy and can ultimately lead to falling apart later on.

And so it is with our brains. We can try to override our emotions, but in the end, we will fail if our unconscious side really wants something. At a certain point, we run out of willpower. Imagine spending a day trying to corral a group of 20 kindergarteners. It would be exhausting. It is just as exhausting for the conscious mind to continually rein in the wants and desires of the unconscious mind. Ever have a terrible day and think 'Screw it, I'm having Cheetos!'? Willpower is a finite resource and can only withstand so much temptation. There is no willpower strong enough in the world to overcome our emotional side all the time, and in every instance. What we must do is positively influence both our conscious and subconscious decisions so that we do not need to 'white knuckle' our fitness and end up binging later.