The Best Part of Your Brain to Use for Decision-Making
Two discussions about the brain and decision-making that I came across in one day made me think about the part of the brain dysregulated eaters could use more for decision-making. Wise, rational thinking makes all the difference between arriving at healthy or unhealthy choices, not just about food, but about health care in general.
First, I read “Slight of hand” by Advice Goddess Amy Alkon (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, E55, 4/14/16) in which she talked about why we react so quickly, before we can think. “Because fear comes up fast and there’s all this energy behind it,” she says, “it’s easy to believe it’s telling you something you need to hear—and follow.” True that: When emotion comes barreling up from within, it feels like a powerful missile of truth that we ignore at our peril. She says, “…emotions are automatic reactions to something in your environment. They rise up (out of a sea of biochemistry) without your doing a thing. Rational thought, however, takes work.”
She summarizes what cognitive neuroscientist Jason Buhle says about the importance of “considering alternate possibilities” which “divert the action in your brain from the stress and anxiety department” to the prefrontal cortex which is the seat of reason. It really works to say to yourself, “Ok, I’m wanting to devour that whole cake right now because I am so stressed, but maybe there’s another way I can think about this.” Simply by side-stepping choice via emotion and handing it over to the part of your brain that is built for problem-solving, you’re practically assured of not taking an action that you will likely regret. When you start to react emotionally, all you need to wonder is, “Could there be another way for me to react?,” then let your frontal lobes field the question.
Next, I caught an NPR interview with Frances Jensen, MD, author of The Teenage Brain—A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults. What I heard confirmed what I already knew: the human brain doesn’t fully mature until the late 20’s or early 30’s and the frontal lobes, where rational decision-making is done, is the final part of the brain to develop. Think about it: the part of your brain you need the most to make healthy decisions is the one that’s been around the shortest amount of time. It’s the one you’ve used the least if you’re anywhere under 35. Moreover, you’ve gotten used to relying on emotions as a guide and may not realize that you now have a better decision-making tool than how you feel: what you think. Emotions are important, but they’re not what you want in the driver’s seat when you’re making decisions about self-care. Practice handing over those decisions to the latest addition to your brain, your frontal lobes, and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the outcomes.