Take a Moderate Approach Chapter 3

Choice & Consequences

Humans can make good decisions, but they don't always choose what's best for them


Your Rational Mind

The human brain contains a big, busy command station at the front, behind your forehead, called the prefrontal cortex. This region helps you make logical plans and rational decisions. Like a wise, experienced friend, this part of the brain helps you weigh options and choose the best course of action. This kind of decision-making is called executive function.


Your Animal Instincts

While your prefrontal cortex is processing a smart choice for you, other parts of your brain are making appealing counterarguments! Your senses, emotions, mood and memories get in on the act. If certain behaviors a triggered a big flood of happy-making brain chemicals such as dopamine in the past, you may choose those over more rational actions. READ MORE

The brain's amygdala, which is heavily involved in processing emotion and memory, interacts with the orbital frontal cortex when your brain is weighing the likely outcomes of a choice it is making. If you enjoyed eating sausage pizza and drinking a beer the last time you went bowling, your amygdala will help you call up that experience the next time you are in the bowling alley. Environmental cues and your memory could persuade you to make the same choice again. Also, your emotional state at the time you make a choice can affect how well you predict its outcome. And when it comes to substances and actions that stimulate the brain's rewards pathway, any action that has resulted in the release of dopamine and other feel-good chemicals in the past will be strongly reinforced in the memory. LESS


And the Winner Is...

You know what is best for your well-being. Yet you anticipate pleasure from choosing something that is not necessarily best. What ultimately tips the scale and makes you decide to go for that morning jog, or to stay home and eat two muffins instead? READ MORE

There is no sure-fire way to make the best decision for yourself every time. However, one powerful tool to help you form better habits is your feeling of regret after making a decision that you realize, logically, was not positive for you. There is an enhanced response in parts of the prefrontal cortex and right orbital frontal cortex—the executive function headquarters—when someone must make a choice after the experience of regret. Of course, no two brains are exactly alike, and the strength of your individual habits, and your ability to reset them, may be challenged by your genetic predisposition toward novelty-seeking behavior, or addiction. But be aware that your brain is capable of “learning” better habits. That knowledge might help prevent you from feeling helpless against your harmful behaviors. LESS

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