Emotions Cause Behaviors
In my last article I discussed desire and how it is a learned behavior. You can read it here. Today I'm going to discuss how emotions play a role in habit creation.
Our emotions are created by what we think - so the emotion of desire is created by a thought. Staying on the topic of drinking alcohol - our desire for alcohol is created by a thought. So, what are the thoughts we have that create our desire for alcohol?
One of the most powerful thoughts we have is, “I want that.” It seems like such an innocent, little thought, but even just a little thought like that perpetuates feelings of desire, and we don’t even notice that we’re thinking that thought.
Why? Because we’ve programmed the thought into our brain and repeated it so many times that it’s happening beneath our conscious awareness, beyond the supervision of the part of our brain that thinks and makes decisions from logic. This part of your brain - the part that distinguishes us from other animals - is called the prefrontal cortex.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the HUMAN BRAIN VS. THE ANIMAL BRAIN
The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that makes you human. It can think about what it’s thinking about. It can think about the future in relation to both the past and the present. That’s something animals cannot do.
But we like to use our lower brain, the same brain animals have, because it’s efficient, and our brain wants to be efficient.
The brain is like a factory. The prefrontal cortex is like research and development. This is where we learn everything new, and this can be intense, hard work. It can be slow and time consuming, and it can involve trial and error, thinking, and planning.
The lower brain, however, is like manufacturing. Manufacturing is efficient. It doesn’t question anything. It doesn’t argue. It doesn’t think logically. All it does is produce a repeating program that you’ve programmed it to produce. The repeating program that you’ve created in your lower brain is,
Unconscious thought: I want to drink
Result: Feel the reward
Programmed Thoughts + Rewards
We have a lot of thoughts that are associated with drinking:
- It relieves my anxiety.
- It’s relaxing.
- It’s fun.
- It’s celebratory.
- It relieves stress.
- It turns off my brain.
Those are the kind of thoughts that keep us drinking. We’ve learned these thoughts from all the people around us, from our environment, from the commercials we’ve watched. We’re constantly thinking these thoughts and then drinking, and then thinking and then drinking, and so on.
We’ve created this programmed, repeatable thought process. In addition, a huge reward is associated with it—a flood of dopamine into your brain—and that’s what makes the desire so intense.
You have the thought, you have the desire, you drink, and then you’re rewarded. There is no more powerful combination than that.
If you look at all the psychological research on learning, you’ll learn that rewards increase the speed and the intensity of an activity. That is the perfect storm when it comes to alcohol.
It’s normal, natural behavior. There’s no problem here. Your brain is functioning just the way it’s supposed to! Your brain is keeping you safe and ensuring your survival.
All the primitive, lower, animal brain stuff is now causing us tremendous problems. Before, being afraid all the time served us well. Now, being afraid all the time, stressed all the time, worried all the time is killing us. We need to evolve past those survival mechanisms that got us here. The same is true when it comes to desire.
In my next article, I'll talk more about our brains and how they work to help us survive.
If you'd like to know more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credits: Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash
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