Learn how to control unwanted urges with Phil Sims
We’ve all been there: starting an argument we didn’t want to start or eating something unhealthy that we didn’t want to eat. Why is it that our subconscious doesn’t always play by the rules we try and set? And why does it seem as though willpower is just a fantasy?
Because your brain is made up of more than you know; but learning how to control it isn’t as hard as you might think.
Everything in life from how we walk and talk to how we respond to certain situations all comes down to one thing – our brain. It works like a computer, where everything you input affects the entire processing of the machine. Everything you learn throughout your life, every situation you’ve ever been in, creates a pathway in your brain. Patterns are repeated, and similar situations will always result in similar responses.
As these pathways repeat, they get deeper, stronger. They’re basically etched into your being, and this is influencing your actions, emotions, thoughts – everything.
Learning is all association. We learn by layering new pieces of information on top of something we already know. For instance, we learn that if we touch something hot, it hurts, so we stop doing it – we learn the pattern.
How you think – and how your brain is programmed – has a massive impact on your life and health.
Animalistic brain vs human brain
Your brain’s primary purpose is to ensure your survival. You’ve got the logical ‘human’ brain, working on a conscious level, being all rational; and then you’ve got the instinctual animalistic brain, working on impulse, acting on urges.
The animalistic brain is as old as time, dating back to when we were cavemen hunting down sabretooth tigers. (This sentence isn’t entirely factual, but the point is humans have had these base, instinctual aspects since we first came into being, and they were necessary to ensure we could hunt prey and escape predators.)
When our brain senses danger, it will trigger the animalistic brain. This part of the brain is reactive, and it’s lightning fast – unlike our rational, human brain, that likes to take it’s time.
Controlling your mind
When you’re stressed, your cortisol levels are high, triggering your sympathetic nervous system – one part of the autonomous nervous system, which controls your unconscious actions.
The sympathetic nervous system’s primary purpose is to stimulate the body’s fight-or-flight response.
Fight mode – our body prepares itself to fight our way out of a situation.
Flight mode – our body prepares itself to run for our lives.
But there is also a third kind of response that can happen:
Freeze mode – our body remains perfectly still.
Sometimes we forget how interlinked the brain is with the rest of the body; but it’s all connected. The chemical changes and learned thought paths etched into the brain have a direct knock-on effect to our actions and physical wellbeing.
This means having a happy, healthy life comes down to understanding your triggers, and learning how to manage your response. It means taking control of your thoughts and behaviours isn’t out of reach and that you can grow those willpower muscles the same way as you would any other – through training and repetition.
Making better decisions: the diaphragmatic breathing box drill
You have the power to control your own mind and although it may feel like a battle sometimes, you can win. You can take control of your own thoughts and actions.
The following breathing drill is a simple and effective way for you to relieve stress and return you to your parasympathetic nervous system – the other part of the autonomic nervous system, responsible for rest-and-digest responses.
In this state you are able to not only think clearly, but your body is also able to metabolise food and rebuild damaged muscles. One reason people do not see results despite eating well and training hard is that they don’t spend enough time in this rest state.
Step 1: Lie on your back on a flat, comfortable surface and relax, with your knees bent and your head supported. Place one hand over your belly button and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe.
Step 2: Breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds, so that your diaphragm fills up. Feel your diaphragm move out against your bottom hand. The hand on your chest should remain fairly still.
Step 3: Hold this breath for four seconds and then exhale with a little force through your mouth for four seconds.
This will lower your stress, improve cortisol levels and help you regain a healthy system, which is paramount to a healthy lifestyle.
Living a high-stress life doesn’t just cause you to make rash decisions, affecting your relationships and safety, but also causes health problems within the body – think heart disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, obesity, headaches, dementia, gastrointestinal problems and premature ageing.
If you practice this breathing exercise regularly, your body will begin to adjust to a more constant calm. And this will result in your body functioning better over all.
So breathe easy, take control and stay healthy.
Phil Sims is a PT and trainee NLP practitioner. Find out more at philsimspt.co.uk