Be alert: part of you is going to try to use the concept of an “emergency” to trick you into abandoning your goals. 

It’s not a matter of “if” or “maybe” this will happen. It’s GOING to happen. 

This is how our brains work when we try to make significant changes in our lives. Part of us immediately goes to work trying to figure out an end run around the changes we’re trying to make. 

Sometimes part of us does this because, deep down, we’re sorta scared about what those changes may mean in the big picture. 

Other times part of us tries to sabotage us because the changes we’re trying to make call for us to give up immediate gratification, and we’re wired to pursue immediate gratification whenever we get the opportunity. 

Whatever the reason, one of the most effective methods this part of us tries to use to get us to abandon our goals is by shouting, “EMERGENCY!” 

Maybe you’ve put yourself on a caloric budget or changed the types of food you eat in order to improve your health. It’s almost a sure bet that, sooner or later, part of you is going to try to confound this shift by telling you you NEED to eat whatever’s in front of you right now— it’s an EMERGENCY!

“You haven’t eaten anything ALL DAY. You’ve had a really BAD DAY. There’s nothing on your diet in the house. Making those changes would be nice, but we can’t do it right now— this is an EMERGENCY!” 

Maybe you’ve decided to stop communicating with a toxic person in your life. You can bet that part of you is going to try to collapse your resolve by telling you you NEED to contact this person— it’s an EMERGENCY!

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I said I wasn’t going to call them anymore, but there’s something I forgot to ask them. There’s something I need to tell them. I just need to know how they’re doing— it’s an EMERGENCY!” 

Do actual emergencies exist? Sure, of course they do. 

Do actual emergencies usually require us to abandon our goals? Usually they do not. Usually there is a way to respond to an actual emergency while continuing to hold fast to our goals. 

Our brains pull this stunt because we have associated the word “emergency” with the idea that “all rules are suspended.” A state of “emergency” is one in which we don’t have to pay attention to the long term consequences of our behavior— by definition, in an “emergency,” we have to concern ourselves with just surviving for the moment. 

Lots of times, our “emergencies” aren’t real emergencies. Lots of times, we’re just looking for an excuse to suspend the rules we’ve imposed upon ourselves. 

Change is freaking us out, and we’re looking for a way to push the pause button. 

Let’s be clear about the fact that no one is expecting change to be easy. 

Let’s also be clear about the fact that very often we bit off more than we can actually chew when we’re trying to make changes to our lives. We go on a diet that is unreasonably restrictive. We set unreasonable standards for ourselves. We demand that we change without realistically assessing the “how” and “why” of those changes. 

If you need to reassess your goals and rules in order to successfully carry out your change program, do it.

But don’t create an imaginary “emergency” in order to push the pause button on change that’s just freaking you out.

A rise in your anxiety is not an “emergency.” 

It is what it is: an emotional fluctuation that requires regulation and response from you. 

No more, no less. 

You’re GOING to be anxious in the process of change. 

Plan for it. Expect it. Have ideas and lists ahead of time on how to cope with that anxiety when— not “if”— it arises. 

By that same token: plan for, expect, and have contingencies ready for when your brain tries to trick and sabotage you in order to keep you from changing. 

Again, it’s GOING to happen. It happens all the time. 

But your anxiety doesn’t get to choose whether you change. 

Only you do. 

One thought on “Your brain’s “emergency” scam.

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