Do you ever have trouble making decisions? Do you look at the pile of decisions in front of you and just go “Tilt, tilt . . . I don’t know what to do?” Or perhaps you make a decision and then it just seems to evaporate and you don’t have a clue how to execute it, and one more time you end up feeling like a failure.
Today I’ll talk about what actually happens in your brain when overwhelm sets in and give you my three favorite tips for stepping out of overwhelm and back into easier and more effective decision making – all without spending a dime!
Let’s talk a quick look at two parts of your brain:
The frontal lobe allows you to make decisions, to execute decisions, to discover, to create, to play, to notice. It’s where your logic is. It’s where your conscious thinking happens. For ease of conversation, many people refer to it as your “second brain”. It’s awesome!
Then there’s the back part of your brain (the brainstem and the cerebellum). This is often referred to as your “first brain”. This area takes in massive amounts of sensory information and based on your past experiences, immediately decides if you’re “safe or unsafe”. This part of your brain was designed first and foremost to keep you safe and alive. It does this automatically or subconsciously.
When if decides that you’re safe you can easily move your decision making into your frontal lobe and begin making and executing the decisions you’re having in your conscious thoughts. You’re now in control of that process. But if your first brain says, “not safe, not safe, big threat”, it takes over control (think startle reflex / fight or flight mode) and it becomes very difficult for your conscious brain, your frontal lobe, to do what you want it to do.
Relative to today’s conversation on overwhelm and decision making, when you’re stuck in your first brain (threat mode) you can’t, no matter how smart you are and no matter how much you want to, make the decisions you’re trying to make. When your first brain senses threat, it’s only interested in one thing, keeping you safe.
Now this may or may not be a real threat in your conscious or second brain’s thinking, but that’s irrelevant! When there is conflict between the first and second brain, the first brain always wins. Just remember, “survival first” is how your brain is designed to function!
Let me share a story of a client I was recently working with. She was in overwhelm and she knew it. She called me for help.
She was getting the family ready to leave on a two week trip (driving) and she had a bunch of food to prepare for the trip and for family events along the way. Her words to me, “I don’t know what to do”.
I know her well and she’s woman who knows how to prepare food and feed lots of people (three children and five grandchildren)! But in the preparation process for this trip, she went into overwhelm and it was literally preventing her from doing what she actually knew how to easily do. Her first brain was literally preventing her creative, thinking, frontal lobe from doing what it easily knew how to do. Remember, when there is conflict between your “two brains”, the first brain always wins (survival first)!
Working together, we were able to quickly get her out of overwhelm, but it took outside help so that she could find a safe way to step out of overwhelm – something her brain was not ready to let her do on her own!
Now let’s put this into your life. Maybe it’s making decisions at work or decisions in your relationships or decisions about your health or decisions about movement and exercise. Yes, it could even be as simple as, “What should I wear?”
Some days when I’m thinking about and getting ready to shoot videos, I struggle with what to wear (this is normally very easy for me)! I have great clothing choices, but sometimes even these simple choices can look overwhelming when my “stress bucket” is too full!
Here’s what happens. Overwhelm and frustration have set in. Perhaps you have several important meetings you’re concerned about, you have some relational challenges and perhaps some financial stress! Your stress bucket is full to over-flowing. You know you should be able to make a decision and you can’t!
Remember, none of this process is logical, but it is how your brain was created to function! The stress has accumulated to the point that your first brain is now in charge and it simply wants to protect you. To do that it begins to shut down your decision making processes. Just like it did to my friend who needed to get food packed for her family’s trip.
Safety first is not always logical but it always wins. It functions based on programs and experiences you may have had when we were in the womb, as a baby, or as a toddler, before you even had language skills or the ability to understand what was actually happening. It also takes into account more recent experiences and traumas. These experiences are all stored in your brain and are used to predict whether or not future events will be safe or unsafe!
When I see this happening to me I quickly use one of my 3 favorite tools to break out of the overwhelm cycle and put my frontal lobe back in control of the decision making process!
I regularly teach these skills to my clients. They’re a foundation part of what I teach in our program, Youthful and Fit.
Teaching people how to work with their brain instead of against it is what makes our programs unique and so effective.
Let’s take a look at these 3 tools – you can pick the one that looks easy to you! Be sure to watch the video that goes with this blog – these tools are much easier to learn when you see me demonstrate them on the video.
They’re so simple that you may think that they can’t possibly make a difference. But their effectiveness is in how easy they are – remember your brain loves easy! What you want is an easy tool that helps your brain say, “That looks easy, that’s safe, I’m going let her go there”.
I call these interrupt tools! Remember your first brain is a bit like a two year old, if you distract it, its attention shifts and gives you the opportunity to move out of unsafe mode and into safe mode!
Your First Tool: Breathe!
The first thing that happens when the subconscious part of the brain moves into “red alert, red alert, not safe mode”, is that it causes breathing to go shallow. To counter this, you choose to simply relax for one – two minutes and consciously breathe. Relaxed, conscious breathing sends a signal to your brain that you’re safe!
I demonstrate this on the video (click here).
Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold for two and exhale through your nose for four, hold for the count of two and repeat.
If your first brain is in startle mode it’s likely that your shoulders will be going up and down and your chest will also be going up and down. What you want is for your breath to fill you entire chest/thoracic cavity, starting down low in the abdominals – work to have them expand the same as a balloon would: 3-dimensionally. You want to expand your lower diaphragm in all directions.
Doing this five or six times can actually change which part of the brain is being activated. It changes your voice. It relaxes your eyes. In fact, every time I did it during this video, I could feel my voice relax and calm down.
Pretty simple. You can do it anytime, anywhere. Easy to do – Easy to not do!
Your Second Tool: Relaxing your Abdominals the Easy Way!
This is a simple, easy way to reset your adrenals – I often do it on my clients before we start an appointment. It’s great to have someone do it to you, but you can also do it to yourself.
With this one, visualize the line that would run from the bottom of your breastbone to just below your belly button. You’re going to make a fist and with your knuckles gently rub up and down this line – just up and down while you’re relaxing your breathing.
This is actually very good to do on babies and fussy children. As you do this, continue to relax your breathing (see tool #1). This helps calm the adrenals. When your subconscious gets agitated, the adrenals go into high alert and begin producing more adrenaline and cortisol – which all converts to belly fat.
Be sure to watch the demo on the video (click here).
Your Third Tool: Acceptance Statement and Lymph Stimulation
This is a tool that I teach in our Youthful and Fit Program. It’s one that I do regularly. I’m sure I’ve done it thousands of times in just the last year or two! Best to watch this on the video (click here).
You’re going to rub in small circles right below your collarbones. This is where the main lymph drainage ducts are. You’re going to rub in a small, outward motion circular motion, while you say an “acceptance statement”.
Your statement will look like this:
“I accept __(fill in the blank) completely as it is with all of its strengths and all of its weaknesses”. You make that statement three times and then you do a karate chop using your two hands. Use the side of your palm where you would make a “karate chop”, and tap it 3 times with the side of your other hand (side of your pointer finger).
Let me give an example. You’re having trouble making a decision on what to wear. We’ll just make it super simple: “I accept my clothing choices completely as they are in all their strengths and all their weaknesses”. Repeat 3 times and then three “karate chops”.
Let’s say that it’s having a conversation with somebody at work who just irritates you to no end. We’ll call that person Susie. You would say, “I accept Susie completely as she is with all of her strengths and all of her weaknesses.” Repeat three times and then three karate chops.
Or perhaps you don’t even have a clue what to accept – how about accepting you! “I accept myself completely as I am with all my strengths and all my weaknesses”. Repeat 3 times. And then 3 “karate chops”.
None of these statements are saying that you like the circumstances, like the other person, condone where you are or that you want to have more of whatever your statement is. What it does is help your subconscious feel more safe so that you can access the frontal lobe part of your brain and get out of your “not safe mode”. This simply allows you to more easily make decisions, execute decisions, and get the results you’re looking for. You’ve helped move your thinking from your first brain to your second brain (frontal lobe).
As a wisdom coach, I know a lot about food, I know a lot about supplements and cleanses and balancing hormones and weight loss and I help people with all of these. But all of those things, as helpful as they are, can also create a lot of “not safe feelings” and can actually shut down or hinder your desired decision making process.
Even though your logic says you are safe, and your logic wants to make good decisions, when you’re stuck back in your first brain, you’ll either struggle to make or be unable to make those decisions you want to make.
The result? You end up feeling like a failure, when in reality, it’s not about you. Rather, it’s simply learning the skills to help you work with your brain instead of against it. I go into this in great detail in two of my online programs:
Isn’t it time that you learned to switch gears and and begin to work with your brain? Then be sure to connect with us at CherylTownsley.com and on our facebook page, facebook.com/LifestyleForHealth, where you’ll find many resources to help you more easily create the life that you most desire.