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Have you ever started a day thinking: “Today I’m going to _________” only to find yourself getting into bed that night thinking: “DAMMIT! that didn’t happen!” and felt disappointed and discouraged?
Me too! Why don’t we do what we say we’ll do? Is it because we’re not motivated enough? Or possibly because we didn’t try hard enough?
Nope. That’s such baloney. I see you. It’s not for lack of trying. You’re trying really hard. Rather, there’s another reason and it has nothing to do with your motivation or will power. I have studied the brain and human behavior for decades. In this post, I will help you understand why we don’t do what we want to do and how we can start!
Why Don’t We Do What We Want To Do?
Firstly, some good news. You’re not broken. There’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, the reason we don’t do what we want to do has more to do with the correct structure of the human brain than any defect or lack of drive on our part. This is not happening because you’ve done something wrong or you’re not motivated enough.
Lasting life satisfaction and happiness doesn’t take will power.
Above all, there are two main reasons why we don’t do what we want to do and both have to do with neuroscience and our human brain.
The Motivational Triad
First, lets look at our brain’s motivational triad. Did you know our brain has a motivational triad? It’s motivated by three things. Our brain’s goal is to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy. Thats it. The human brain’s sole purpose is to keep us alive.
Our brain does not care if we are happy. It does not care if we feel fulfilled in our days. Remarkably, our brain does not care if we make it to the next day with the satisfaction and pride or with despair and regret.
The human brain only cares that we physically make it to the next day. Our brain does this by repeating over and over what we’ve always done. As far as it’s concerned, that’s success: you’re still alive, right?
What this means is that if every morning you start by saying “I’m not going to eat after dinner” and go to bed every night crying and feeling like a failure with your belly full of ice cream, your brain is like “high five! I did my job…she’s alive”.
Furthermore, the second main reason why we’re not doing what we want to be doing is because of something called decision fatigue. Did you know that every time your brain makes a decision it uses energy? Each and every decision: Whether to turn right or left. If you should wear blue or black. Whether to yell or take a deep breath. If you should eat an apple or a cupcake.
Interestingly, the more of our desired behaviors that we can make habitual (something we do without thinking about it), the better. When we wait until the time to make a decision about what we are going to do, we set ourselves up for failure. Our brain is tired from all the decisions we’ve made during the day and will not pull on its’ adult, cognitive skill power to make the best decision for us. This is why willpower doesn’t work when we are looking to do something new. Rather forming habits is where the magic lies.
Adding decision fatigue with the brain’s motivational triad is the reason why we need to take a more active role in what we do and how we spend our days.
This is also why white knuckling new behavior, restrictive diets, or criticizing yourself into change doesn’t work in the long run. Aligning our choices and actions with an identity of who we want to be, I’m the type of woman who….is one of the key ways we hack our brain to do what we want it to do.
How Happiness Habits Can Help You!
Which leads me to my help for you. You now now the basics on how our brain works and you can hopefully begin to believe that it’s not your fault that you’re not doing what you’re doing. For instance, you can begin to see how you doing what you want to do isn’t an issue of being more rigid or more controlling with yourself. Hopefully you can pull on this information so that, instead of getting to the end of the day and thinking you’re a failure, you have the knowledge to see that nothing has gone wrong here – you have a human brain and your human brain did just what it was designed to do.
However, this is not a permission slip to sit back with the remote and the chips. On the contrary, I’ve given you the building blocks to biohack a life you love. The next step is to begin as quickly as possible and to stop the current habit loop you’re running of letting yourself down.
My passion is to help busy women minimize their effort to maximize pay off. This is where habits and habit formation comes in. I help women train their brain to habitualize the behaviors that are in alignment with their values, to habitualize the actions that move us forward, to habitualize the daily actions that support our long term goals of mental, emotional, and physical health and wellness as we age.
I help women live lives that not only feel better, they are better.
If you don’t know the four habits proven to raise your overall happiness set point (and aren’t doing them daily in your lives), please run over to sign up for my happiness habits course.