Whenever I go to a Chinese restaurant, I always order the same thing: General Tso’s chicken.
Basically, the most Americanized (and best) item on the menu.
Ask me to order something different and you’ll get a firm “NO” and an stern look of disapproval.
Sure it may seem boring. But will I change my way of life and risk experiencing uncertainty or temporary discomfort?
The truth is we all tend to cling to what’s familiar in our lives – types of people, music, politicians, beliefs, food, brand of socks, you name it.
Our brains love routines and patterns as they help us learn and conserve mental energy.
But our brains’ functions are not always suitable for our everyday situations, and at times, they can be very misleading.
In fact, a lot of what we think we know about reality or even about ourselves may not be entirely accurate.
David DiSalvo’s book titled What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite discusses how our brains can trick us.
Our brains crave certainty and stability.
We look for patterns and consistency because that’s how we understand and feel safe in our environment.
Anything unfamiliar screams danger. An unfamiliar thing might threaten our physical or psychological survival, so our defenses go up, whether it’s a dark silhouette, a strange sound at night, or a different belief or custom.
Seeing what we like/what’s familiar causes our bodies to release dopamine, the feel-good hormone; seeing what we don’t like/what’s unfamiliar releases cortisol, a stress hormone. It’s easy to see which is preferable.
We can see all of this as simply a need to feel secure. Being able to understand our environment makes us feel safe and in control.
Paradoxically, the most self-confident and secure people are also usually the ones who are the most open-minded and receptive to uncertainty and instability.
We’re terrible at predicting our future behavior.
We think we’re braver, more disciplined, and more moral than we actually are.
The trouble is that when we imagine being tested on these qualities in some future situation, we forget to factor in the emotional pressure we’d be feeling in that situation.
This is called intensity bias.
It’s easy to imagine ourselves being bold and courageous when we’re relaxed and sitting comfortably at our computers.
It’s not so easy to be bold and courageous when we’re actually facing danger.
There’s a saying: “To truly know a man, you must fight him.” Similarly, to truly know yourself, you have to go through challenging situations. Did you stand up for yourself or did you stay silent? Were you authentic, or did you try to act like someone else? Did you stick to your values or did you compromise?
We also overestimate our own self-discipline; this is called restraint bias.
It’s easy to think we’ll start eating healthily when we just pigged out at a buffet and feel full and bloated.
It’s not so easy to be disciplined when we’re starving and passing by the vending machine (and think we can get away with it/rationalize that we deserve it).
To combat this, know that anticipation is much stronger than realization. Instead of thinking about having a bag of chips (how good it’d taste, how hungry you are), focus on how you’d feel when you’ve finished it (unhealthy, fat, greasy).
***To learn more about how our brains trick us, check out What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, by David DiSalvo.***
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