The Real Reason You Make the Choices You Do
Your brain's job is to keep you alive.
In each situation we come across, the brain is trying to decide which option among many is best for your survival. It sources cues from the internal body and external stimuli and makes an instinctual decision. If the brain chooses correctly- toward pleasure and away from pain, the neurotransmitter, dopamine, will be released which rewards the brain for that choice. Dopamine is a learning chemical. When released in the brain it strengthens the neural pathway of that decision which in turn makes that choice look like the better option for that same situation next time around. So now the original choices for that situation are no longer equal- one is now seen as the better choice.
The more that choice is made with success in similar situations, the more that option loop is reinforced and strengthened in the brain. Soon, in the name of efficiency, the brain automatically chooses that option when confronted with familiar situations.
Here's how that looks in real life. Let's say you walk into a cafe on a coffee break and look around at the sweets. You didn't eat a very filling lunch so the treats are looking especially good today. In the past when you were a little hungry and had a sweet, your brain rewarded that choice heavily due to the concentrated energy source and sweet taste of that food. Now you notice a strong desire to get a treat again. What's actually happening here is that the option of getting a sweet or not getting a sweet is unevenly favoured toward getting a sweet. As far as your brain knows, it was a very successful choice last time, and the choice of getting it again is coming in much more strongly than any other choice in your brain since that loop has previously been strengthened. So you 'cave', and get the treat, and you love it. Your brain loves it too, and strengthens that path even more, and sooner or later getting a treat doesn't feel like much of an option, it feels like a pleasurable love affair that you're happy to give in to...
Until you're not. At some point getting that treat will also feel like you can't say no, or that you're doing it against your own will. And this is where it gets interesting. Because even though you may have decided you don't want the treat anymore, you still feel compelled to get it when you're in that situation. You don't want it, but it feels like you do want it at the same time. No. You don't want it, but the autopilot option loop that is strengthened in your brain is creating thoughts on impulse to encourage you to get the treat. These rationalizing, manipulating thoughts are coming in strongly because as far as your brain knows, getting that sweet is absolutely the best choice for you.
But just as that option became the strongest one choice by choice by choice, so too can new choices become strengthened. What we have to know is that any choice that we feel powerless over, is simply a very strong neural pathway. And how we weaken those pathways is by actively not choosing them. Each time we choose something else we weaken the original pathway and strengthen the new one. So by walking into that cafe being fully aware that your unconscious brain is going to manipulate your conscious brain with enticing thoughts, you now have the ability to listen to those thoughts without reacting to or believing them, and make the choice that you and your higher goals truly want. Each choice made in a new direction is one pebble moving to the opposite side of the balance scale. Each choice we make is either strengthening pathways or weakening them. Each conscious choice you make is actively changing your brain to become who you want to be as the balance scale tips in your favour toward your ultimate goals.
Our brains used to be perfect to keep us alive and well. It was exactly what we needed as we foraged and hunted for food, with choices of good food being rewarded and strengthened. It was what we needed when we had dangerous animals around, and the option of running was better than the option of staying. It was perfect when we made shelter and avoided the pain of the elements on our bare skin. Our ability to learn which choices were best for us was crucial to our survival and reproduction as a species for hundreds of thousands of years. However, our modern world is nothing like it once was, and our modern instincts of choice are now more of a liability than an internal compass. Our modern world demands a modern way of navigating our surroundings. And every conscious choice is another opportunity to create a life based on our true desires and our best interest.