00:00 You’re listening to the live happier, longer podcast, episode 42
00:15 Welcome to the live happier, longer podcast. We’re your hosts, Molly watts and Angela McDade. We are Here to help you build the five habits of happier longer life and to create your habit mindset, starting now.
00:29 Hey Angela. Hey Molly, how are you? I am not too bad. Yourself? Excellent. Were we both were saying, come on sunshine. Come on sunshine. It’s peeping! It’s a little odd. In August I will say, I’d like it to just come back out. Stay here. Yeah, but that’s our daily weather report over, on with the show. Weather, weather from Oregon, always. Oh, so today we are talking about the science, I guess, or the brain science kind of behind habits. And I think that we should very fir first and foremost say , disclaimer, yes, we are not neurologists. We are not neuroscientists. We know you thought that we were, well, we know most of, if anyone’s listened to, they know that we kind of have a closet dream of becoming neuroscientists. We’re not psychiatrists, we’re not psychologists. Um, we’re just readers of people who are. Students of brain science. And certainly over the last two years, we’ve spent a lot of time diving into this research.
01:36 Though I’d say we’re a comfortably further down the path than people that don’t have any, uh, you know, each knowledge whatsoever. We’re certainly not experts in the subject matter. Um, but we are very interested in it and we’re interested in it for a few reasons. Um, first, you know, we talk about our habit mindset a lot, um, and developing our five habits of a happier, longer life. And as we kind of pointed out last week in our first episode, we realized along the path that building habits was actually something that people really struggle with. And that’s the key to our five, like it’s a thing you do on a regular basis. So you have to figure out how to, you have to actually do it. Yeah. You can’t just talk about it.
02:28 And, um, it turns out that we’re not, uh, that we’re not alone in that there’s just any habit that people, it’s interesting. And then we’ve done study, I’ve read studies this in preparing for this episode about people that go into, uh, you know, they go into a motivational seminar, they listen to, they talk to even about those being taught all about, uh, the five daily fruits and vegetables, eating your five servings of fruits and vegetables. And when they come out, when they came out of that, uh, seminar, uh, like 42% of the people thought that is a fantastic idea. I’m going to implement that. Six months later, I’m like, 11% had actually done it. Yeah. So it’s the understanding it and really, um, and digesting what habits you should be using and what habits you should be forming is one part, but then actually doing it, doing it, and creating the habits, is it a whole nother, a whole nother idea. And to that end, we wanted to dive in a little bit more this season on the actual process of building habits. And, and the very first and foremost thing about that is understanding are to understanding at least at a very basic level, how our brains do that. Yeah.
03:47 Um, so that’s kind of what this episode is about. And we made the disclaimer that we’re not neurologists. And even if we were, here’s the thing, what science knows about the brain, even today, in 2019 and how far we have come from, say back in the early 19 hundreds is not, uh, we, we still, what we don’t know about the brain probably still outweighs what we do know. Yeah. So even the most gifted neuroscientists, uh, know that they don’t understand it is that continual learning even for the experts. But it’s exciting. It’s really, um, it’s exciting, uh, research and exciting science. So we’re really gonna just stick to the 10,000 foot view of the brain because, you know, you could get, um, really quickly, just even in the, um, even in the basic, uh, you know, areas of the brain and the basic anatomy of the brain.
04:45 Good gravy. Yeah. There’s a lot there, right? So, um, what we want to really, uh, stick to is understanding the difference between the, the primitive function of the brain and the executive function of the brain and how those two intermingle to, um, how to build habits and really how to just how we, how they function in us on a daily basis. I’ve said it before, but I think that one of the things that we have really been impressed with as we have studied our five daily actions and studied five for life and studied the brain and aging, is that our brains are just really amazing. They’re completely changeable, adaptable, moldable, and you know, learning things and learning new habits and changing behaviors are not age based at all. No. And, and the more, the more we read into it, the more we discover that actually you can change your brain.
05:50 That was, was not thought. Yeah. You know, not, not very long ago. People just thought that that was it. It was your, you would get to a certain age and that was you. You were done. And it was a deterioration. And it’s not, which has been a nice, right, a nice surprise. Yes. And also, you know, we’ve, we’ve talked about on the podcast before, not only changing your brains, uh, neural pathways and learning new things, but also protecting your brain and it’s your brain health and how, um, there are things that you can do to, uh, you know, in a preventative way to offset some of the problems that happen with aging and that are associated with, uh, you know, uh, as you age deterioration, just like you said, I mean, there are things that happen in the brain that, that do, uh, happen as a result of aging.
06:44 Yeah. I mean, that is deterioration and your entire body, there’s, there’s no getting away from that. Yup. And your brain is as part of that, but there are absolutely things you can do to prevent the, the symptoms of that deterioration, which ultimately is that as the bottom line, right. Don’t want to be, those deteriorations are going to happen, but you don’t want to be dealing with, uh, the out. Yeah. You want to be able to have a, uh, a path to combat those things. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, and it’s the symptoms that people fear, not the actual, right, right, deterioration itself. Right? If you can, if you can offset those symptoms with by doing things, you will.
07:30 Um, so this, this episode we’re really talking about, um, again about how the brain incorporates habits into our lives, um, because it’s a huge part of our life and we talk about it in terms of making a planned outcome and understanding that you don’t get to that planned outcome. You know, we don’t, we say you don’t get to live that longer, happier life if you don’t have a plan. And if you don’t take action on that plan and develop these habits and what habits really are, um, are the brains kind of internal driver, right? They, they basically take things that we do repeatedly and they put them into an automation mode. Yeah. And that’s both a good thing and a bad thing because there’s some things that we do automatically that we probably shouldn’t, don’t want to be doing, but we have the power to create habits that are good for us and hopefully if we can automate them, which is the goal. Yeah. Then they become the fabric of our lives really. And they’re the fabric of our days.
08:43 Um, and I’ve, I’ve, you know, I say it all the time. It’s not the, it’s not the height of our goals. It’s the, it’s the level of our systems that really define what we, what we accomplish. Um, that’s, you know, James Clear, I’d love to quote him. That being said, 40% of our daily activities are habits. I don’t know that people are, I mean, are you, and when you get down to it, the whole idea that 40% of what we do is habit. Most of us aren’t even aware of creating those habits. Yeah. We, yeah. And if you sat down and, and wrote down all the things you do, like from the minute you step out of your bed in the morning, you would realize how many things, right? You just do automatically. And most of us didn’t really spend any time thinking about creating that habit. You know, that’s the important part. And that when you understand that, it’s like, okay, so the brain really takes over and creates the habit for you.
09:48 And it does, it does it for a reason. And it’s kind of a cool, I mean, it’s really, you know, again, when you look at the evolution of our brains, it’s just an amazing, amazing thing. It does it because it wants us to, to become it’s soul desires to be more efficient and to be there, find the easiest path without using at least amount of energy. Yeah. And so then it can basically, when it, uh, when it relegates something to habit to this internal system into the lower part of our brain, that primitive brain, um, then it frees up our, our prefrontal cortex to be able to think about, you know, doing other things. Yeah. Well, deeper thoughts and really important things like what’s for dinner or other more important things. But uh, you know, the downside though as we mentioned, is that some of our habits are so internalized that we may not even be aware of them and some of them that that can even include like emotional responses that have become habits because we learned them as children. Yeah. And they were repeated and repeated and repeated. Right. And they were, and it was a part of that and they were based on those kind of reactions of that primitive brain.
11:09 So let’s talk about that. Let’s start kind of talking about the two different, we’re gonna like I said, 10,000 foot view. We’re gonna talk about the two kind of systems in terms over the two different levels. I guess it’s more, um, what I would like it to be the, uh, emotional brain, right? So we have more of a primitive brain that’s our emotional brain and then our prefrontal cortex, which is a more higher level. Yeah. And really evolution wise there, we call it also more primitive because that brain has existed, existed back in the days of the Caveman and it was just survival mode. Right. And so that’s, that’s where it came from. And now as, as the brain has developed over the last 50,000 years, you know, this, the human beings have developed a larger frontal cortex, a larger cerebrum. And that’s why we always talk about it in terms of, you know, people saying, you know, gotta use your higher level, your executive function, all of that.
12:18 It exists because humans have, have evolved and we’re all sitting here in houses, and you can go to the store and buy food. We’re putting out podcasts on the Internet. Yeah. You know, so, but that, that primitive brain was all about, you know, finding food, finding shelter and surviving that. That is not an issue we have to deal with now, no. And sadly like that, that primitive brain, the limbic system is another, uh, term that people use for that primitive type emotional brain like I’m talking about. And the reason I’m making that distinction is because the most primitive part of our brain is actually the cerebellum, which is down, which is not in this area. It’s, it’s located down closer to the brainstem, down at the base of our brain. And that is one of the older, like one of the oldest pieces of our brain.
13:12 It exists. Even it existed even in animals prior to, um, humans right before humans even existed. So that is what they, people, you know, making that distinction that may be the one of the most primitive parts of the brain. We’re talking more about primitive emotional brain because again, the brain in higher level beings and as opposed to other mammals, right. We have more gray matter. Yeah. And our brains have evolved in the front part of our brain, which is larger now is it’s evolved there for a reason. Right. Because the world’s a far in far more complicated place and, but still it’s this, this is interesting, an interesting statistic. The brain has only evolved by 10% in the past 50,000 years. Yeah. Which is, yeah, right. It’s so we think that we are so evolved. Can you imagine what’s going to happen 50,000 years from now?
14:16 There’ll be looking back on, uh, you know, us and thinking, yeah. Wow. They did. People did that. They did not have much going on in their brains. But, um, according to evolutionary psychologists, um, most of our brain is still living back there in the past. We have this prefrontal Cortex, but you know, and we’re equipped to deal with this modern world, but, uh, 90% of us is still like back in the cave, you know, looking around for food. Yeah. You know, keeping predators out and also tried to mitigate risk and stick with things that are familiar to us. Safe. Yeah. Safe. Exactly. And it’s why we typically dismiss things that we don’t understand very well. Right. Our brain just goes, oh, yeah, that’s, that seems like it might be scary. Um, it might be an enemy. It might be safe is actually a great this, I’ll do this as a safe.
15:15 Right. You’re, you’re not gonna, you’re your zone. Right. Right. But the reason that it’s important to get out of that primitive brain, okay. The primitive brain says, okay, there’s a tiger coming at me, run. Right? It does not foresee, uh, type two diabetes and think, oh, danger. It’s not set up for that kind of reaction. That’s where the prefrontal cortex has to step in and go, oh, okay. My longterm goal is to not develop type two diabetes, so I need to change my eating habits. It has the ability to plan for the future and not just immediately respond to imminent danger. Right? Yeah. Even though, right, you’re more likely to die of type two diabetes, then a shark attack or a terrorist attack or things like that. But you, you talk to your primitive brain about those, a shark or a tr and you get really scared and really nervous and anxious and you cannot, uh, elicit the same response for type two diabetes even though it is more dangerous.
16:33 Right. So it’s really, it’s, yeah. Okay. All right. I know it diverged, but you know, this is definitely the, the problem of, uh, for me of brain science. So there’s like rabbit holes, like everywhere you turn. There’s a whole web, you just start going anyway. Okay. So the thing about the primitive brain is that it’s really focused on not only just avoiding pain and avoiding fear, it’s also a pleasure seeking area, right? Which is how we, you know, figured out how to keep the species going. Right. And also just, you know, that’s why when food tastes good, we, you know, it’s all, and that pleasure seeking is a big part of, um, why habits, uh, can get formed and why they often fail as well. Um, and so we’re going to talk about that more next week in terms of what the actual process of forming those habits looks like.
17:41 Um, the, the actual step-by-step kind of process. Um, but it’s important to understand that the primitive brain, uh, plays a role in developing habits. Yeah. Both of them do. So it’s, it’s coordinating them together. So, like we said, um, the, the thing about, uh, habits that a lot of people, um, fail to see is that a lot of habits are created unconsciously. Um, they’re carried out automatically and they really exist because they, um, have been done repetitively time and time again. And it’s that repetition that is what happens. What, what builds up the, the, the habit formation. You and I, everybody, I think most people have heard of, uh, Ivan Pavlov. Yes. Pavlov’s Bell. Yeah. And this, so I mean, talk about brain science, right. This is 1904 when we developed this, when he developed what has also been called, um, not, I mean, Pavlovian response, things like that, that conditioned responses.
18:56 Yeah. Um, it’s important though in terms of just like I said, understanding how habits are formed and that, uh, you know, that primitive response because really Pavlov was dialing into that. He really didn’t set about trying to find out this whole idea of conditions training. He was really working on digestion. Yeah. But, um, and this, this is what he discovered in his process. Yes, and he was talking about dogs. So let’s first foremost say we know that you’re not dogs and we’re not trying, you’re not, you’re probably not tried to create a habit of salivating more, but it’s uh, you know, the, the idea of classical conditioning is important. And here’s why. So it goes like this. Pavlov’s, Pavlov’s research. First you pair two things together, right? A stimulus, which in this case was food for the dog and you get a response like salivating.
19:57 All right, dog sees the food, starts to salivate, then you do you add an additional response. I mean an additional stimulus. So you put the food, you ring the Bell, you ring the bell and the dog salivates yes. So over time you remove the original stimulus. You take away the food, you ring the bell and you still get the same response, the salivating dog. Yeah. So if you think about that in terms of how habits are formed, let’s take a look at it as if, uh, when people are smoking. This is definitely a negative. Yup. Um, habit, but you know, important to understand. So the stimulus first is they see a cigarette they and it results in them lighting up. Yeah. And spoken to cigarette. All right. Over time we add seeing the cigarette feeling of then adding in feeling of boredom as the second stimulus.
21:04 Yeah. And then they still, they just light up the cigarette. Over time, you take away even seeing the cigarette, you just have the feeling of boredom. Yeah. And then you light up and let it do. Same goes with food, or any other things that you have that, that you developed the routine. Yeah. That you set up the, that you set up the stimulus and you set up the, you know, the reward for, so what’s important about all this? I think most important to think about Pavlov and what I was just saying about the primitive brain is understanding that that really is where those types of responses live. And, and it’s unconscious, right? It’s an unconscious and it’s very low level responding because you got this boredom feeling right. And you, instead of taking executive action over it, your body just goes, oh I’ll go get a cigarette.
22:05 So that part, the evolved brain and the prefrontal cortex and executive function is where we need to break the cycle in terms of creating habits and how we can actually change a bad habit and build a good habit. We have to basically understand that every time that we feel bored, we need to step back and understand that, first of all, we’re feeling bored, not because of some just inherent reaction. You know, it’s not a fight or flight reaction. It’s not the necessary for survival and it’s something that we’re thinking that is causing us to feel bored. That leads us to an action such as picking up a cigarette, which is then getting a desired undesirable result, which is developing a smoking habit. Yeah. And ultimately to break the chain of habits, we have to choose different thoughts, which create different feelings so we’re not bored and that we take different actions and we get different results.
23:22 Ultimately, that’s kind of where we have landed with, um, our habit mindset. Yeah. It’s, it’s when we make a conscious effort and that you make the decision to do these things. When you feel something rather than going into the autopilot, you consciously say, I will do this rather than what the automatic response may have been. That process of really taking a step back that we are as humans, we are capable of doing. You know, that’s the whole beauty of it. The dogs, they don’t have the prefrontal cortex ability to, to sidestep that. Hold on a second. There’s no food that’s just a bell. And so we need to be able to engage that prefrontal cortex. And really, and it’s not easy, you know, it’s no easy. You, you really do have to stop and check yourself. Yes. And you have to, and it’s not only like a lot of us, we’re not, we can stop ourselves and check ourselves and think to ourselves, okay, we don’t want to do that.
24:40 We want to do something else. But I would say we need to even go deeper. We need to figure out what it is that is causing us to fail in the first place, whatever that is. And you have to break that cycle. You can change your, you can change a habit, you can change your behavior, but if you really want to, you know, just by, by sheer willpower, right, you can just mind over matter it and you can say, OK, uh, today, you know, I am going to not just, I think we talked about before, like, I’m not going to eat chocolate. You know, you can kind of, but that only lasts for so long. Yeah. And ultimately to internalize habits, we have to use that prefrontal cortex determined what thoughts are going to lead us to the feelings that create the best actions that deliver the best results.
25:38 Yeah. Yeah. So it’s figuring out that why in the first place. Yeah. Yeah. The why for you and the why for you is different, you know, for everybody. Right. And what motivates me might not motivate you and vice versa, but understanding that your feelings right are 100% a result of the thoughts that you have is the first step and understanding that even within a habit that you’ve formed. Um, and I, there was a study and this one I loved. I mean, I loved it because there’s, there’s a lot of people that get, um, that feel really discouraged and really hopeless when it comes to overcoming bad habits. And some people want to even believe that it’s not them, that they’ve created the habits that they’re at. And certainly there are plenty of things that people, that, that, that society has provided to us, that make, that make our brain that trick our brain, right? Yeah. Like so, uh, smoking and, and drugs and these are all pleasure, pleasure centers for the brain. They, they deliver a kind of false pleasure for us and they become habit forming. Right. Um, but a lot of people want to say, well, you know, you become addicted to smoking because nicotine, right. They want to believe that it’s the nicotine that, that keeps them there and not their own brain.
27:09 This study. So what I’m saying is that I, and, and they, they feel powerless because the nicotine is the thing that’s keeping them there, right? Yeah. They try chewing gum, they try patches, whatever, and it doesn’t work. What I think is inspiring about what I’m going to say next about this study is that ultimately there’s a whole huge part of even the most destructive habits that are driven by not habits by, um, addictions or things of that nature that are driven by habit even the strongest negative behaviors that we may do on a repetitive basis.
27:51 It can’t always be attributed to, um, all the high sugar content in food. Like if you have a real sweet tooth, people say, oh, I just, you know, I can’t stop eating whatever. And they attribute it to this their sweet tooth, right. People drink too much or drink more than they want to, and they say that the alcohol, they’re addicted to the alcohol. In actuality, a lot of it is habit based. Yeah. And so this study was done, um, a long time ago, uh, 2005, um, basically on, um, Orthodox Jews who were smokers. Well, Orthodox Jews refrain from smoking on the Sabbath as a part of their religion. It’s just a part of their, you know, it’s just, yeah. Fundamentally that’s what you do. Yeah. Yeah. And they took a look at them and they actually assessed them at three times over a given work week. These are habits, you know, smokers.
28:51 Right. And they found that on a work day when they were smoking as usual, um, they, they, like I said, they, they had these, the smokers, they test them. They had, uh, on a workday where they smoked as usual. They tested them on a sabbath when they never smoke and they, um, on a forced abstinence workday. Okay. So they had these three different days. So craving, irritability, and other commonly reported smoking withdrawal systems were assessed and, uh, respectively at several times during each of the three days. Yeah. And what they found, um, that craving to smoke and to a lesser extent, irritability was lower during the sabbath than the other two test days. So because they had accepted that they weren’t gonna do it that day they, so self-reported a difficulty in abstaining was also lower on the sabbath than other work days, craving in the evening proceeding the test date was always significantly higher than in the next morning despite overnight abstinence before the morning.
29:52 So it’s like the brain is just incredible that it’s, it’s the craving to smoke is determined by a large extent, by smoking related habits, cues and expectations. So that to me is like, I love that type of research because that basically says that you can by action, yeah. Change what your brain, you know. Yeah. Because, because you have taken the decision or the pledge not to smoke on the Sabbath then that it, you have allowed yourself to survive without. Yeah. And you’re all good. That’s, that’s fine. You don’t do it that day. So yeah, you just get on with it. It’s very interesting though, cause you wonder then, okay. So then if that in, and we’ll talk about again about this later as we’re talking next week about actual steps to build habits about how they might use that as a, as a building block to get to the next step, the next step step of taking, you know, not smoking on weekends than not smoking, you know, and, and slowly but surely so that they become non-smokers.
31:02 Decisions can be motivated by a thoughtful consideration from our higher mind. Right, that frontal lobe or they can be motivated by fear based survival instincts. Um, from a more primitive mind. And when decisions are informed by our higher mind, they are more likely to lead to positive outcomes. Uh, decisions driven by our survival instincts tend to hold us back. Uh, ingrained reactions, behavior patterns and inner dialogues that could have been shaped when we were kids, um, can also persist into adulthood. And that’s another thing that we need to, when we’re talking about habits. Yeah. We can also talk about, you know, their, their people have emotional response habits, right. The way the result, the way he reacted to different situations. And that could very well be, um, something that’s, that’s being triggered from that primitive that, yeah. Right. Yeah. And it’s like people who blame things on situations, you know, that this happened. Yeah. Whenever, so, now this is just the way I am and that’s not. Well, it is, I mean it could very, well. It doesn’t have to always be like that, you know, that’s your choice to see, oh, well I’m sorry this happened to me.
32:29 And so this is, this is, this is what, this is how I am now, but you can make these choices to change things and react differently and behave differently. And you know, and that’s, that’s, that’s the whole thing about this is although we have this primitive brain, we do have the option of making choices to change things. And it’s, it is as simple as, I mean, not simple as, but the very first step in all of this is the awareness. And I think that’s really where we’re coming from, is just trying to help people understand and create awareness in their own lives of the existence of this primitive brain and these primitive reactions and the, the, and also the existence of our, uh, prefrontal cortex and our executive function. And that these two pieces of our brain, um, are, they’re, they’re active in our lives every single day and we have the option.
33:31 And really that’s the whole thing. If you’re, you know, you’re gliding along and life’s going smooth for you, that’s one thing. Okay. But like I just mentioned, if you are not using your prefrontal cortex to look ahead and to set yourself up for aging with optimism, with success, and avoiding things like type two diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s and all these things, you know, you are not using your executive function just because you’re not scared to death of it right now. And creating a, you know, reacting to it. You have to be, you have to be smarter than your own brain. You know, you have to use the part of your brain that it’s great. Granted, it basically is only 10% of your brain. 90% of us are, you know, 90% of your brain is living in that. Yeah. That primordial way. Just working away. Yeah. Um, you know, caveman state, you need to take action.
34:33 You need to decide. You need to make a cognitive decision to, uh, outwit, outlast, you know, and uh, create the habits that are going to serve you in that. Yeah. And that long life. Yeah. Happy, live longer, happier, you know, better, uh, to make the rest of your life the rest of your life the best of your life really. Right.
34:59 So next week we’re going to talk about the steps to actually build new habits. And you know, we’ll be talking about the habit loop, which is all about the cue, the routine, the reward. We’re going to talk about how we can use both our primitive brains and our executive brains to build new habits. I want to leave everybody with one note here about a couple of notes I guess. But they say enthusiasm is common and commitment is rare. So in a research by the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 54% of people who resolved to change their way, ways failed to make transformation last beyond six months and the average person made the same life resolution 10 times over without success. Yeah. So yeah. Uh, there’s work to be done. Yeah. And um, to that end, this I love, this is a quote by LG Elliott. “The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables called habits, attitudes and desires. What you do in life depends upon what you are and what you want. What you get from life depends upon how much you want it, how much are you willing to work and plant, cooperate and use your resources. The long span of the bridge of your life is supported by countless cables that you are spinning now. And that is why today is such an important day. Make the cables strong.” Yeah.
36:30 So next week we will talk more about building strong cables, building those good habits and how to do it. And really, uh, I think just reiterate step by step how you can make positive changes in your life. Make the rest of your life the best of your life and uh, live happier longer. Yeah. And getting ready for next week. Uh, we will in our show notes, we’ve included our take on, uh, the habit scorecard. This is something that we borrowed from, uh, James Clear and the atomic habits. But, uh, basically you’re going to start thinking about everything that you do in your day. That’s a habit already. Yeah. And what we said before is, you know, the awareness of the habit is the first step. Right. And I mean we want it to go from just like you said, like from get out of bed, brush my teeth, right, and you’re going to mark those habits as either positive, negative, or neutral. Yeah, and so this is simply a scorecard that allows you to understand how much of your life is a habit that based. Yeah. So get ready for that. Look forward in our show notes and if you’re on our newsletter list, you’ll, you’ll get that in this week’s newsletter as well. And we’ll see you on next week.
38:01 Thanks for listening to the Live Happier Longer podcast. Now it’s time to move, learn, share, give and let go. Five daily habits to make the rest of your life the best of your life. See you next week.
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