Why We Struggle to Align Our Actions with Our Desires

Very often, we find ourselves wanting something but doing something else. We have a desire to behave in a certain way, yet we find ourselves caught up behaving in a way that we’re aware of but don’t like, and we struggle to change it. Sometimes, we get stuck in a loop of repetitive thoughts and can’t seem to break free.

The problem is that we appeal to the brain, hoping it will drive us towards happiness. But we always need to remember that the brain is not designed for happiness, career fulfilment, or a life of achievements. Its primary purpose is to keep us alive, keep us safe, and regulate our bodily functions.

Unless we take charge, it will tend to choose the path of least resistance – even if that means misery.

The Brain’s Default Mode: Survival

The human brain is a remarkable organ, finely tuned by millions of years of evolution. Its primary function is not to ensure our happiness or career satisfaction, but to keep us alive.

This involves:

Maintaining homeostasis: Regulating our body’s internal environment.

Detecting threats: Reacting to danger with a fight-or-flight response.

Ensuring basic survival needs: Prioritising food, shelter, and safety over other desires.

The Path of Least Resistance

Left unchecked, our brains will often opt for the easiest route. This might seem beneficial in the short term, but it can lead to long-term dissatisfaction. Here’s why:

Avoidance of discomfort: Our brain tends to steer us away from challenges and risks, which can hinder personal and professional growth.

Resistance to change: Even positive changes can be perceived as threats, causing us to cling to familiar but unfulfilling routines.

Energy conservation: The brain seeks to preserve energy, making us inclined to habits and routines that require minimal effort, even if they don’t serve our higher goals.

Why Not Just Follow the Brain’s Design?

One might argue, if the brain is designed this way, why should we go against it?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

1. Evolutionary Mismatch:

   – Our brains evolved to handle immediate, physical threats and scarcity, not the complex social and psychological challenges of modern life.

   – Many of our survival mechanisms are outdated and can be counterproductive in today’s context, where long-term planning and emotional well-being are crucial.

2. Beyond Survival:

   – While survival is fundamental, human beings have the unique ability to aspire beyond mere existence.

   – Pursuing fulfilment, purpose, and happiness enriches our lives and enhances our overall well-being.

3. Quality of Life:

   – Simply surviving does not equate to thriving. To lead a meaningful and satisfying life, we must sometimes override our primal instincts.

   – Engaging in fulfilling activities and pursuing personal growth can lead to a more enriched and joyous life experience.

4. Adapting to Change:

   – Modern life demands adaptability and resilience, qualities that require us to push beyond our default settings.

   – By understanding and working with our brain’s tendencies, we can better navigate the complexities of contemporary living.

Taking Charge: Mindset and Mental Fitness

To counteract the brain’s default settings, we must actively take charge of our mindset and mental fitness. Here are some strategies:

1. Set Clear Goals:

   – Define what happiness, career fulfilment, and life satisfaction look like for you.

   – Break down these goals into actionable steps.

2. Embrace Discomfort:

   – Recognise that growth often requires stepping out of your comfort zone.

   – View challenges as opportunities for development.

3. Develop Resilience:

   – Build mental resilience through mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing.

   – Cultivate a growth mindset, focusing on learning and improvement rather than perfection.

4. Seek Support:

   – Engage with coaches, mentors, or supportive communities and learn how to rewire your brain.

   – Share your journey and challenges with others to gain perspective and encouragement.

5. Prioritise Self-Care:

   – Ensure your basic needs are met to support higher-level functioning.

   – Incorporate activities that bring joy and relaxation into your routine.

   – Eat nutritious food – what is good for your heart is good for your brain

   – Plenty of quality sleep to give the brain the detoxing time it needs

6. Educate Yourself:

   – Understand who you are, your values, and what drives you.

   – Learn how your brain works, including how your thinking and belief systems might sometimes hinder your progress.

   – Identify your strengths and the activities that make you come alive. By leveraging your strengths, you can navigate challenges more effectively and find greater satisfaction in your pursuits.

7. Incorporate Exercise and Outdoor Activities:

   – Regular exercise supports neuroplasticity, enhancing the brain’s ability to adapt and change.

   – Spend time outdoors, even if it’s as simple as going for a walk in nature. Enjoying peripheral vision can give the brain a sense of safety, which is when some of our best ideas can surface.

A Simplified Understanding

It’s important to note that this is an extremely simplified summary of complex theories from neuroscience, neuropsychology, and neurobiology. Researchers in these fields are constantly developing new theories and deepening our understanding of the brain and mind.

The information provided here is based on what we know so far and is intended to be user-friendly and applicable to everyday life. By implementing these insights, we can better navigate our personal and professional journeys.

Steering Towards Fulfilment

Understanding the brain’s natural tendencies helps us recognise why we might feel stuck or unfulfilled despite our best intentions. By consciously steering our actions and thoughts towards our desired outcomes, we can break free from the path of least resistance.

It’s about making deliberate choices that align with our aspirations and being proactive in shaping a life of happiness and fulfilment.

Taking charge of our mental fitness is not a one-time effort but a continuous journey. As we navigate through life’s challenges, we must remember that our brain’s primary goal is survival. It’s up to us to push beyond that, striving for a life rich in purpose, satisfaction, and joy.

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