Anti-Actions, Fake Limits, and Other Ways Your Brain Betrays You

Excerpted from

Stop Saying You're Fine: Discover a More Powerful You

By

There's a battle going on in your brain, and it's keeping you from getting what you want. To win any fight you have to know what you are up against and how to fight back. Your brain is a formidable opponent and it fights dirty. At crucial moments throughout your day, your brain is putting the brake on your desire for action and inserting thoughts and feelings in order to keep you from moving forward. Yes, you read that right. You don't have the life you want because your brain is keeping you from getting it. It pits your feelings against your dreams. It sets your worries against your ambitions. And it tees up your frustrations against your future. You are going to learn how to fight back and win. I will hand you an arsenal of tools to use to lift the brake in your brain and take charge of your life, but first you've got to understand how your mind traps you.

Your brain has made an art form out of doing nothing through "anti-actions." Anti-actions are the actions you take in the place of the ones you need to take. You can find examples of anti-actions everywhere in your life.

  • You want a raise at work, but you convince yourself to put in the minimum amount of effort possible, telling yourself "no one cares about this thing anyway." Putting in a minimum amount of effort is an anti-action. If you were more powerful, you'd go beyond just phoning it in and put yourself in a position to argue for the raise.

  • You want to get back in shape, but every day you take anti-actions that waste the time you could have spent on training at the gym. You hit the snooze, surf the Web, take a little longer at lunch, or run an errand that isn't really urgent. All these anti-actions create just enough of a squeeze on your time that you can convince yourself that you don't have the time to hit the gym tonight.

  • You want to figure out what to do with your life now that the kids are off to school, but you convince yourself that you're not really qualified to do anything because you haven't worked in over a decade and you are "just a mom." Instead of looking for a job, getting advice from old colleagues, or attending a weekend seminar to help you create the next chapter of your life, you throw yourself into projects around the house like updating photo albums or rearranging the living room. There's a small rush of satisfaction from getting these projects done, but they undermine your true desires. These anti-actions dismiss the hundreds of hours of volunteer fund-raising work you've done for the school and the innate project management skills you possess due to managing three kids' sports, music, homework, and after-school schedules.

Your feelings and mind-sec are driving these anti-actions anti interrupting the natural course of energy from thought to action, and keep you spinning in circles without growing or changing.

Where are these feelings coming from/ Why does your brain undercut itself'* Recent research over the past decade has come a long way toward helping us understand what feelings really are and how they operate. Through all sorts of advances in different fields of psychology and visualization, researchers have drawn some solid conclusions about the nature of our feelings, which overturn some of our earlier notions about how the mind works.

We all know that our minds are divided into conscious and unconscious levels of thinking. Our traditional understanding of the unconscious mind, whether Freudian or Jungian, was a vast storehouse of hidden thoughts and desires, kept out of reach of our everyday thoughts. There was always an air of someone hidden behind the curtains. But as modern technology allows us to uncover, isolate, and see the mind at work, were starting to get a different picture of rile unconscious mind as a complex, layered set of automatic processes, what Dr. Timothy Wilson of Harvard University calls the "automatic unconscious."

We're discovering that many of our feelings are just a kind of sophisticated shorthand for all sorts of complex calculations that are constantly occurring in the back of your brain. Your feelings are a way of taking tons of incoming data and delivering it to your conscious mind as kind of fuzzy sentiment to steer your decisions. In other words, your unconscious mind may be a for less of a wizard behind the curtain, and a lot more like a bunch of very fast processors all working together, like the ones Wall Street traders use to make many decisions very quickly.

The problem were discovering with our minds, however, is that these unconscious automatic processors have some evolutionary shortcomings. They are impressively fast, and excellent tools for most kinds of decision making that involve survival, but they're not so good at some of the subtleties of higher-level thinking. As a result, we are constantly making predictably irrational errors. For example, our brains have a terrible bias for "now" over "later," because our automatic unconscious believes that survival depends on immediate satisfaction. We will gladly sacrifice true happiness later for a good time now. Remember that list of things that resistance loves: surfing the Web, vegging out in front of the TV, sticking to routine, not picking up the phone, hitting snooze, avoiding confrontation, making excuses, rumination, and isolation. Every last one of those feels like the right thing to do in the moment. That's why your brain opts to do it.

To grow, you have to do the stuff that feels hard right now, not later. There are scores of other examples, and we'll cover the most important ones in this chapter. The point is that when it comes to getting unstuck, you've got your work cut out for you. That's because there are two basic forces at work in your brain. On the one hand, you have an imagination that is devising new and interesting ideas for your life. On the other hand, you've got an automatic unconscious that's weighing risk at every step of your life, and it is trying to discreetly (i.e., without your consent) veto any ideas or actions that might lead to what it considers a dangerous (by caveman standards) change.




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