“Cognitive control and value-based decision-making tasks appear to depend on different brain regions within the prefrontal cortex,” says Jan Glascher in Time magazine 2012.
The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that steers us towards the things that we want and it is also the same part that keeps us from over-indulging as well. When shopping in supermarkets, people generally go armed with a list of items that they need. On the way round the supermarket, we are bombarded with tempting items that we might just fancy. The executive decision-making process is the very thing that both helps us to stay on track and focused; it is also the very same process that prevents us from achieving too.
In an article published in Scientific American by John Pearson, Michael Platt on August 5 2008, they proposed the rationale for this is that the decision-making process is dependent on neural plasticity i.e. the brains ability to create new thought pathways. In doing so the brain ‘eavesdrops’ on all the other potential thoughts that we, at MLD, call interference. Just as a TV can produce a poor signal due to bad weather, the brain can also make a poor executive decision due to the interfering mind chatter.
If it is indeed the same part of the brain that makes the decision and compels us into action, then what stops us from doing things? Lack of motivation? Apathy? Fear?
In 1519, Spaniard Hernán Cortés coined the phrase “burn the boats” after some 600 Spaniards, approximately 16 horses and 11 boats had landed on a vast inland plateau called Mexico. This was the ultimate motivation! If Cortés and his men ever found themselves on the brink of defeat, there wasn’t an exit strategy in place to save their lives. Remarkably though, the command to burn the boats had an opposite effect on his men. Now they were left with only 2 choices — die or ensure victory.
Adopt a ‘burn the boats’ attitude during the goal setting phase so that every setback just requires a “work-around” statement. Maintain your course with the same desire and mental resilience that was felt when the goal was first conceived. Charting the course of action, estimating the potential pitfalls and arriving at the plateau of action - burn the boats! Commit to it 100% and give it everything. Remembering that failure only happens when we give up!
Let’s examine a New Year’s resolution for a moment: most of us have, at some point, proudly announced to the world that we will eat less, drink less alcohol and do more exercise. As the decision has been made with a real sense of conviction, why do so many fail? What is it in our executive decision-making process that is flawed and dooms most of us to failure within the first couple of weeks?
It has been widely speculated that as humans, we try to do too much all at once and too much change is just too much for us to handle and therefore we give up. Actually, it is much simpler than that. We need to prepare the mind before we embark on any impulsive decisions made, even if they are made with the correct intention. So that’s great! We now have the answers to all of our failures and we can change the world -right? Wrong!
Focusing on the ‘HOW’ in order to prepare the mind to act upon any executive decisions that have been made requires the mind to have conceived how it will achieve that goal. Here are a few tips:
• Start with the end in mind (Steven Covey) and work your way backwards in sequential steps until you arrive at the point of the things that you can do right now.
• Create a daily agenda and act upon each small incremental step towards your goal (Darren Hardy)
• Work out if the price is worth paying (John Maxwell) because, as with everything, there will be a price to pay either by your own time and energy, impact on your family or in pound notes.
• 7-21 days prior to doing something new (going to the gym or starting a new mid-term paper), detox and focus your mind in preparation (Caroline Leaf).
In conclusion, most of our customers will know that we, at MindLife Dynamics live, breath and eat this philosophy every day because we know that it works! The next time that you make your mind up to do something - learn a new language or run a half marathon - turn the interference down first and prepare the mind for the intensity of change that you will have to make in order to complete the goal that you have just set.
Remember that it may have to become a life style choice if the goal is audacious enough and you are really serious!