Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide opens a window onto the inner workings of the human mind. I have always had an interest in the intersections between brain chemistry and cognition, and Lehrer's work answers so many of my questions. In the very briefest of nutshells -- dopamine and the prefrontal cortex work together (or in opposition) and thus our decisions are made. Lehrer takes gambling, credit cards, and the stock market to task, since all three play upon logical failings within the mind. His work has forced me to take a sterner look at why I make the choices that I do.
I have for several weeks been attempting to eat better, to choose foods that are of better quality, more likely to end my hunger, and best for me and my personal longevity. But, if I fail to eat a proper breakfast, one that has enough staying power to last me until lunch, and I find myself near the coffee counter in the library, all of those muffins, which I know to be both bad for me and bad tasting, call my name. This is my prefrontal cortex demanding a sugar spike. It has lost the energy it had from breakfast, and you know what, when your mind is focused on writing, or reading a complicated text, and it is faced with the possibility of an easy sugar fix -- it will take the easy fix. Before I know it I'm munching unhappily on an icky-muffin, ruining my meal plan, and leaving my wholly unsatisfied with my choices. Boom.
The lesson I take from this? Willpower needs help. In any specific moment our minds can fail us. We can be misled by quick numbers, or by the need for a shot of sugar. Getting ourselves to make better choices takes care and careful planning. Breakfast needs to be more substantial, and better mid-morning snacks need to be made readily available so that the icky-muffin doesn't present so tempting an option.
Thank you, Jonah Lehrer, for making me understand my own mind a little better.