“Self-control is an illusion. It’s an illusion that occurs when both brains are aligned and pursuing the same course of action.” (Mark Manson, Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope)
I think all of us have a very intuitive sense of what self-control is. We, refaced with temptation throughout the day and we have to resist those temptations and overcome them in order to choose the best possible path forward for ourselves.
I think back to the Middle Ages when you would have this idea of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other shoulder and they would fight it out and the angel was kind of representing your desire for self-control and if the angel won you would succeed, and if the devil won you would fail.
Self-control comes from giving up the illusion of self-control. We discover what is true “me” when we begin to know the “not-me.” This is a truth known to the mystics of all religions, that is, that you find your true self by growing beyond the self.
Neuroscientists are really just starting to understand exactly how these battles are fought in the brain. According to a new theory, they say “We see the corpus callosum before the ventricle”
These are certain regions of the brain or maybe certain subsets of neurons, In certain regions that represent the desire to do something bad like to eat those cookies, to eat the doughnuts, and then there are other regions in the brain that represent the other desire, the desire to abstain, the desire to not eat them and be healthy and these parts of the brain literally seem to battle, they seem to try to inhibit each other.
The neuroscientist is figuring out what these regions are and how that battle proceeds. They can bring people into their laboratory, record their brain activity with electrodes placed on their scalp, and then they have them do a really simple self-control task. When they’re choosing between tempting foods like cookies and unappealing but probably better for you foods like carrots. They process their brain signals and display their activity in a very simplified way on a computer monitor. There’s maybe a red bar on the side on the screen that grows as the self-control regions are more engaged in the task. What they’re doing by doing that is actually causing exercise in their self-control regions of the brain and so when you let them go back into their daily lives, you find that when they’ve exercised this part of the brain, they just naturally have more self-control. They go to the cafeteria and they choose the healthier option. They exercise more. They don’t even know why they’re doing it exactly.
The reason is so exciting is that they can actually start using their understanding of the way the brain deals with self-control to start helping people with problems.
Neither brain communicates well, but both participate in decision-making by “drive the Consciousness car.” The Feeling Brain is the real driver, it decides where to go. We are moved to action only by emotion. The Thinking Brain can only navigate and slightly modify the route.
Obesity or example- People, If people could be helped to make better food choices consistently then they could reduce the incidences of obesity, which is a major problem in this world.
This is the illusion of self-control. Without these narratives without developing a clear vision of the future we desire, of the values we want to adopt, of the identities we want to shed or step into – we are forever doomed to repeat the failures of our past pain. The stories of our past define our identity. The stories of our future define our hopes. And our ability to step into those narratives and live them, to make them a reality, is what gives our lives meaning.