Beverly Hills Courier columnist Dr. Eva Ritvo is a psychiatrist with more than 25 years’ experience practicing in Miami Beach. She is the author of “Bekindr- The Transformative Power of Kindness” and the founder of the Bekindr Global Initiative, a movement to bring more kindness in the world. She is the co-author of “The Beauty Prescription” and “The Concise Guide to Marriage and Family Therapy.” She is also the co-founder of the Bold Beauty Project, a nonprofit that pairs women with disabilities with award-winning photographers creating art exhibitions to raise awareness. Dr. Ritvo received her undergraduate and medical degrees from UCLA, and psychiatry residency training at Weill Cornell Medicine.
We are just a few weeks into the new year/new decade and already I am finding it difficult to adhere to some of my resolutions, such as minimizing screen time as suggested in my last article. In case you are also struggling, I thought I would share some insights from my neuroscientist colleagues to help you along the way.
First and foremost, we must accept that our brains can be “lazy.” You probably never thought of your brain that way. Some of us may not even think about our brains much at all. But if we do, understanding our thought processes can help make life easier, more productive and more fun. In fact, thinking about your brain and how it works is now quite popular and has spawned a whole new field called “Mindfulness” which means knowing one’s mind and stepping outside of it to be able to observe your thoughts and feeling.
Our brains were designed and evolved in times of scarcity. Food was hard to find, and energy had to be conserved. Brains are very energy intensive meaning it takes a lot to keep them running. In fact, about 20 percent of our calories go to nourishing our brains. So, our default mode is to conserve.
Did you ever wonder why picking up a long book feels so daunting? Your brain most likely is in conflict. One part is saying “Great, this looks interesting, I can probably learn something new which is exciting so let’s go.” The other part is like “Hey, that’s long. Do you know how much energy that will take? That magazine looks cool!”
Same with exercise. My yoga instructor often says the hardest part of class is getting there. My “lazy” brain doesn’t seem so lazy when it comes to thinking up excuses. “I went yesterday.” “It probably it won’t be such a good class.” “I already did a lot today and I can go tomorrow.”
If you listen to your “lazy” brain you will make lots of choices that ultimately don’t serve you. Don’t chastise yourself for these thoughts. They are totally normal. They are just your brain doing what it’s designed to do. Save energy. And you know what else saves energy, speed! The faster the better for your brain. The quicker something is to process, the more your brain experiences it as rewarding because it saved energy. Knowing this tidbit, you can understand yourself and others so much better.
Why has texting replaced calling and emailing? It’s easier and quicker for your brain to process. Why is smooth clear skin perceived as prettier? Same reason. How did Instacart become an $8 billion business in only seven years? Why did Lyft and Uber replace taxis so easily? Online news replace print? Why is Xanax more addicting than Valium? Hard alcohol more than wine? Why is smoking marijuana more addicting than using it other ways? Why is internet pornography so addicting? Our brain perceives faster as better and perceives all these things as more rewarding.
In our hectic 24/7 world, we must actively try to cultivate the opposite of speed. Slow down, relax, think things through. Make choices that may seem hard, but that will serve you better in the long run. Faster may seem better to your “lazy brain” but it probably isn’t the right choice for YOU.
So, in short (lol, your “lazy brain” is smiling), don’t judge yourself for struggling with your New Year’s Resolution. Change is hard. It requires effort and new learning. Our brain is naturally going to resist it. The next time you start to falter on your New Year’s resolution or any of your goals, please acknowledge your ancient programming. Then learn not to always believe it.
Change is good! We made those resolutions for a reason and it is probably wise to double down on our efforts and honor them. For most of us in Beverly Hills and beyond, we are not living in scarcity so we can push through and use our energy wisely to create a better world for ourselves, our loved ones and the community around us.