By and large, New Year resolutions don’t work. At the same time, people regularly fail to apply their ‘will power’ and resort to old habits. Given the relative roles and influence of the unconscious emotional brain and the conscious logical brain, this is not at all surprising. The thinking brain is like a lion tamer and the emotional brain is the lion. Through careful, patient and repeated efforts, the tamer can learn to tame the lion and manage the beast in an effective way.
However, ultimately, the lion is always the more powerful animal, representing the thousands of automatic operations we carry out every second outside of conscious awareness. We must always remember that the lion has been around much longer than the tamer and is always capable of taking command of a situation. The tamer must always treat the lion with respect, working in harmony with it in order for things to operate smoothly and safely. The consequences of the tamer and the lion not being in harmony could be catastrophic.
We often think of rapport between ourselves and other people, but what about the rapport between your thinking brain and your emotional brain? If the two brains are fighting against each other, the emotional brain will win every time. This would explain why your attempts to give up smoking, lose weight through dieting, or take more exercise often fail. Your logical brain knows that not smoking, eating healthy food and exercise are good for you. However, your emotional brain governs a set of attitudes, emotions and habits that are not in harmony with this logic.
The good news is that it is possible for the tamer to train and manipulate the lion in certain ways, distracting it from harmful actions and focusing its attention on more positive ones. But never forget, the lion is always much more aware of what is going on within us and around us than the tamer. Your lion will communicate with you via feelings, intuitions, dreams and physical symptoms, and the more you listen to it and understand it, the more likely you are to create a successful tamer and lion relationship.
Your daily workout: feeding your lion
Most of us are happy to give up 10 minutes a day to physical exercise, but what about exercising our brain? Remember, unless we feed it and tame it, our lion (unconscious emotional brain) will always take over our thinking and actions. This daily workout will help your lion tamer (conscious thinking brain) to tame the lion, feeding it positive thoughts to get each day off to a great start. The activity should only take about 10 minutes and, although it can be done at any time, it is recommended you do it in the mornings before starting the day ahead.
Find a quiet, undisturbed space with a mirror. Look at yourself in the mirror and repeat the following steps:
- Keeping your eyes open and looking at yourself in the mirror, spend one minute completing the following sentence, using only positive, unconditional praise (positive things about who you are, not what you do): ‘I like me because. . .’.
- Thank yourself for the praise.
- For one minute, close your eyes and picture yourself in a memory when you were relaxed, confident and happy. See how you were behaving, remember what you were thinking, and feel how you felt at the time.
- Count backwards from 10 to 1.
- Keeping your eyes closed, remember a specific time when someone you respect and trust paid you a compliment. Repeat what happened in specific detail, remembering how you felt at the time. Focus on this positive feeling and imagine it getting bigger and bigger.
- Open your eyes and look at yourself. Allow yourself to see what the other person saw and repeat it to yourself.
- Now think of your day ahead. Spend one minute thinking how you will use your qualities and positive feelings to help you be successful and enjoy the day ahead, seeing any challenges as opportunities for growth and learning rather than problems to be concerned about.
- Repeat step 1 just before you go to bed each evening.
Top tip: if you repeat this activity at roughly the same time each day the habit of doing it will form more quickly. Why not link it to another habit you already have, like cleaning your teeth?
Editor: Marwa Karoura