This article will give you 10 tips on how to manage your inner “crocodile”.
A Map of The Territory
Before we dive into the tips, let’s first check out this very simplistic map of the territory, where the territory is our brain:
- We have a reptilian brain
- A rational brain
- And a middle brain
The Reptilian Brain
This part of the brain is also called the old brain, or the first brain, or the primal or primitive brain:
- It’s very instinctual and survival-driven.
- It’s reactive and spontaneous.
- It’s fast but limited.
- It’s in the moment – present only – and knows what we want NOW.
- It wants to avoid pain NOW (like hunger, stress, urges, cravings, boredom, exhaustion, and other forms of discomfort).
- And it wants pleasure NOW, it wants instant gratification, immediate reward, and dopamine.
- It’s a sort of “toddler” inside of us. You can compare it with a toddler that is with us in the supermarket and he wants the chips or chocolate NOW and if he doesn’t get it, he starts to scream.
- It’s the brain that’s responsible for addictions: when urges and cravings are often reinforced with food/drinks it’s conditioned. And the anticipation leads to dopamine which is also something our primal brain gets hooked.
- It’s the real decision-maker.
The Rational Brain
This part of the brain is also called the modern brain or neocortex, and the prefrontal cortex is the very front of that neocortex:
- The prefrontal cortex can think, analyze, plan, and set goals.
- It helps us to be proactive and well thought-through.
- It’s slow but smart.
- It’s aware of present – past – future. It can plan ahead of time and determine what we want most in the future, and imagine future consequences of current activities.
- It is aware of if we work hard now (short-term pain) that the results at the end will be big (long-term pleasure). It’s aware of what is desired in the short-term but what is good and healthy in the long-run.
- It’s the “parent” inside of us who prepares a shopping list for the supermarket and sticks to this list.
- This part can reason that “there’s more to life than chips and chocolate”.
- It’s the decision influencer.
The Middle Brain
In between our rational and reptilian brain is our middle brain. This part of the brain is also called the limbic brain or the emotional brain:
- The first part of our brain that we use to decide is the rational brain: “What do I THINK about the decision”. This second part that we use to decide is the middle brain. This part of the brain is about “How do I FEEL about the decision”.
- The emotional brain is found in everything from cats and dogs to cows and horses.
- This brain can be illogical and it can make us do stupid things from time to time.
- The job of the middle brain is to give you your “gut feeling“.
- The middle brain is also only a decision influencer.
The Real Decision Maker
The last sentences in all three lists is where the challenge is:
- The rational brain thinks about the decision, and the middle brain has a feeling about it, but they are not the decision-makers.
- Both have a vote, but they are not the ones that make the ultimate decision:
- We use the most ancient part of our brain to make all our decisions!
This means that we decide on the level of a crocodile 🐊 – that’s the part of the brain that we share with all reptiles.
With our rational brain, we know what to buy and we have a certain gut feeling about it that it’s right or wrong, but our reptilian brain is making the ultimate decision to buy it (even when it’s wrong!).
That’s why most diets fail: as a parent, we know what we need to lose weight, but at one moment in time our inner toddler starts to scream “no more hunger and other sufferings, I want that ice cream NOW”.
That’s why we watch another episode of Netflix during the night while we know (inner parent) that we should go to bed. The instant pleasure NOW wins it from the long-term pain (not being able to wake up tomorrow).
That’s why we cannot stop smoking: our gut feeling tells us that it’s unhealthy, but at one moment in time the crocodile wants to have a cigaret NOW as it can no longer stand the pain of deprivation and withdrawal.
How To Manage Our Inner Crocodile
Tip #1: First of all, we need to be very aware of that our inner crocodile is the ultimate decision-maker in everything we do.
Tip #2: We also need to realize that our inner toddler starts to scream when things get hard.
Tip #3: We need to consciously decide to use our inner parent.
Tip #4: Once we realize that it’s no longer about what we want NOW but what we want most in the future, we need to plan ahead. We need to set goals, determine an action plan, and stick to it no matter what.
Tip #5: When we start to take action, we need to be prepared that our inner toddler will start to scream when things get uncomfortable. Then just let it scream! Let it have that tantrum on the floor of the supermarket! Just wait 10 minutes and the inner screaming will stop.
Tip #6: Allow the short-term pain – the urges, the cravings, the overwhelm, the discomfort, the irritation, the upset, the displeasure, the uneasiness. Let it be challenging, and just think “This Too Shall Pass“. Allow the urge, and although the primal brain thinks it’s a matter of life & death, your prefrontal cortex knows it’s not as bad as the primal brain thinks it will be and that for sure you can handle it!
Tip #7: Don’t reward the urges with taking the Chocolat, or stopping the difficult task, or watching another episode of Netflix, and here’s why: whatever you reinforce, you’ll get more of it in the future! So if you reward your urges and cravings by giving in to your short-term desires, you condition yourself into the wrong direction. Your inner beggar wins every time you give in.
Tip #8: Replace the reward for the urge with other satisfaction. For example, put a stripe on the wall that you overcame the urge to eat / to stop the task / to watch another episode. Every time you overcome an urge, reward yourself with this “stars & stripe” and aim for 100 stripes on the wall. Or tell yourself you did the “right thing” because your primal brain LOVES being “right”.
Tip #9: Decondition yourself! Reframe the urge as “false alarm”. And just let it run over a long period of time because whatever you do NOT reinforce will extinct. Remember the Pavlov experiment: The drooling of the dogs stopped after a period of time once the dogs no longer received food when the bell rang.
Tip #10: Do not rely on your brain to make decisions in the moment because your primal brain will always be louder than your other two brains: It will encourage you to watch another episode, to eat another ice cream, to stop doing something difficult, to wait and procrastinate, and so on. So plan ahead and stick to your plan no matter what.
Which of the 10 tips reasonates most with you and why?
Please let me know in the comments below! 🙌🏻😊
Long Story Short
Our reptilian brain is about short-term pleasure (f.e. junkfood / not working), which often leads to long-term pain (f.e. being overweight / not achieving anything).
Our rational brain is about short-term pain (putting in hard work) and long-term pleasure (achieving results).
With our rational brain we can set long-term goals, make plans, and take massive action.
Along the way, our primal brain will start to rebel, our inner toddler will start to scream, and our inner crocodile wants to stop the moment we start to experience a sort of “pain” and “discomfort” right NOW.
Therefore, we need to use our rational brain consciously and prepare for discomfort.
If we want to experience long-term pleasure, we need to accept short-term pain in the form of sticking to our plan, which means, keep moving forward, keep going, don’t stop, never quit, keep taking the next step.
Plan ahead, and stick to your plan no matter what!
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