Sunday, January 18, 2009

Free "Won't"


It turns out it is all in your head!

In our culture, we hear a lot about "free will." It has all kinds of connotations: social, religious, political, parental! We are told, often, "It's your choice," or the parental opposite, "Well you chose to do that. You have free will. If little Timmy jumped off the roof, would you?"

I don't know about you, but I have - at times - basically bought into the notion that I can do anything if I only want to enough. And yet, we all know that isn't the case. Because if it were so, we'd all be worshiping at the shrine of Noman Vincent Peal (The Power of Positive Thinking) or The Secret would no longer be one because we would have all attracted money, love and power and either destroyed each other by now or engaged in a world wide group hug.

Okay, I am being extreme. So seriously, what's the deal? Why is it that I, for instance, am capable of sticking to a diet and exercise plan for sixth months of every blessed year and not at all for the other six months? And why is it that though we want to love our irksome neighbor, for some reason we can't? Well, I have both good and bad news. It's because of our brains!

That's right! Researchers have discovered that in the frontal lobe -- where free will is thought to "reside" -- there is also a veto power. And this veto power can override a "conscious" decision. So you may make a conscious decision, for example, to stop smoking. And when the impulse to light up hits you, you can say no. That's where the veto power comes in. It overrides your conscious decision. It becomes active when you inhibit an impulse. It really explains why some people have more trouble than others in breaking bad habits.

Did I promise some good news? Oh yes. We can retrain the veto control by practicing the more desirable habit over and over. This is where support systems, plans and processes all come into play. Repeating that new, chosen behavior over and over retrains the brain. So get yourself a plan, a cracker-jack support partner and your odds of success will be greatly improved. Hallelujah.

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