Your Brain vs Willpower

August 26, 2020

By Elaine Goldhammer MD

Elaine Goldhammer is a medical doctor who has practiced western medicine for 24 years. In  2018, she created Inner Freedom Therapy to help clients in a deeper and more meaningful way.  She is now the leading Hypnotherapist and Life Coach in West Chester, PA. 


 Do you wake up each morning having a goal or a plan, maybe it is not to overeat, overdrink, or not spend time on social media? But by 3 pm, it all falls apart. Why is that? Logically, it is easier to NOT to go to the pantry, spend time searching for something to munch on, opening the chip bag, and start munching away. So why do we do it? Do we need more willpower?

 Merriam Webster dictionary: Willpower is “the ability to control one’s own actions, emotions, or urges.”

Willpower is finite because of our ability to “control” wears out. If you are a dieter, you are likely familiar with self-shaming into the drive to control. Hating ourselves enough to want to change is not a fun way to go through the day and is never effective in the long run. So why are we in this self-punishing, futile pattern? Pretending willpower will get us to some lofty goal is ignoring human nature.  

The main rules of the primitive portion of the brain are three things:

  1. Your mind seeks pleasure.  
  2. It wants you to avoid pain
  3. It wants to remain efficient

These rules make sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Seeking sex and food. (seek pleasure) Avoiding painful, dangerous situations (avoid pain) and using familiar trails or routines (remain efficient), which frees the mind to stay alert and look for the unfamiliar. These three functions will help any species survive.   

Mere willpower will never overcome our basic instincts for very long periods. What leads to lasting change if you want to quit cookies, cigarettes, or the second glass of Merlot? 

  The reason alcohol, sugar, porn, video games, etc. are so addicting is that it accomplishes our brain’s three goals. These things obviously provide pleasure. But we are also avoiding emotional pain with the overindulgence. Three hours of Tiger King a fun way to avoid uncomfortable emotions, such as anxiety, restlessness, sadness, boredom. And finally, pouring the glass of wine while you cook dinner becomes routine, a habit, and suddenly the cue of cooking triggers the brain to seek the wine.  

So how do we get out of this trap where our monkey brain meets the allure of TikTok videos and a bag of M&Ms? First of all, it is important to forgive ourselves for falling into these patterns. Understanding that we are just acting on our primal instincts with our human brain makes sense, and nothing has gone wrong. Learning how to work with both the primitive and the executive mind is where the magic of change happens. 

The executive brains, the prefrontal cortex, is where planning and creative thinking occurs. Only humans have such a developed prefrontal cortex. The developed prefrontal cortex is why you don’t see your dogs having Zoom conference calls at 730 each night. (the dogs may be on to something) To change your behavior takes 3 steps. First, understand that the urge to eat the cookie is a human emotion, and nothing is wrong. Second, learn to process that emotion without rewarding it or resisting it, and third deconditioning yourself out of the habit of the cue/reward with pleasure cycle. By doing this process, you eventually become the person who is no longer the drinker/eater/smoker/internet scroller, whatever it is. Going through this process is not easy, but it is always worthwhile. 

If you want a workover for your subconscious/ conscious brain with a hypnotherapy/life coaching combination, set up a consultation call! I would love to chat with you and see if my program is right for you. Click here to schedule a free 20-minute conversation. 




How can Inner Freedom Therapy help?

If you would like to discuss this click to book a free consultation. 

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