Why do we do things we know are not healthy?

Why do we do things we know are not healthy?

Why do people do things they know they shouldn’t? Why don’t people do things that they know they should? For example, people smoke and have poor diet and lifestyles, when they know this is not good for them. Why is this? From a logical and intellectual perspective, it all makes sense. However, the reason for this is because we make decisions and act upon these decisions based on feelings and emotions, not logic. This is especially true when it comes to diet and lifestyle habits. 

Emotional brain vs logical brain

We have two brains, a thinking brain and an emotional brain. They often don’t communicate well. If the thinking brain is at a disconnect with the emotional brain, we will make emotionally driven choices and engage in emotionally driven behaviours that are not in line with our thinking brain’s logic. 

This is because our emotional brain drives behaviour and action. Thinking is merely just the synapses and neurons in our brains, whereas emotion drives us to action. Emotion is action and actions are emotion.

Think about it, anxiety causes our heart to beat faster, it causes a sick feeling in our stomachs and makes our palms all sweaty. Joy lights up our faces. Anger can cause aggressive behaviour. Our emotional brain is subjective, emotion driven and comes to conclusions fast. The thinking brain is based around reason, logic and is objective. However, it can be slow and fatigue easily if over used. When it tires or is overwhelmed, it goes to the emotional brain for help, which is not always ideal.

When we engage in behaviours driven by our emotional brain, that is not in line with our thinking brain, it can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety. But after a while, in order to avoid/minimise psychological conflict (i.e. guilt and anxiety), our thinking brain gives into our stubborn emotional brain and “logically” justifies its choices. 

For example, you may justify eating/drinking a particular unhealthy food/drink because you were feeling tired or stressed and this food/drink makes you feel good and gives you comfort. Maybe you felt like you earned it because you worked hard. Maybe you didn’t want to offend the person who served it to you. Maybe you just really like the taste. All of these choices are based on feelings and emotions. 

When you think about it, these justifications for your actions, which are sometimes perceived as “excuses,” are not logical. They seem like they are logical to you because they are based on emotions, which drives our behaviour. Why should tiredness, stress, politeness or work ethic have anything to do with what you put in your mouth? Especially if it threatens long term health goals? You think that those things should have something to do with what you put in your mouth, however that is just a subjective feeling and habit you have gotten used to. 

Our thinking brain logically justifies our emotional brains behaviours because our emotional brain can be immature and tell our thinking brain to treat ourselves as a means to an end. This means we see all behaviours as a transactional exchange. This leads people to feel like they deserve certain things in response to certain behaviours (e.g. I worked hard so I deserve x, y and z). 

We know on an intellectual level that we should eat better foods, exercise more, sleep more, stop smoking, stop drinking etc. But we don’t do it. Why? It is usually because we don’t FEEL like it. We FEEL like doing the opposite and “logically” justify it, which may in fact be quite illogical. 

The longer we justify our emotional brain’s choices with our thinking brain, the more we actually start to believe it. This often becomes a large barrier to changing our diet and lifestyle habits because we believe our emotional brain. 

Our emotional brain drives these poor choices around our diet and lifestyle based on how we FEEL. It is very rarely based on what we think, because “information” around our health is very accessible these days. People may not always know exactly HOW to go about changing diet and lifestyle habits and might need guidance in this area, however the majority of the time, they certainly KNOW they need to change their habits based on information presented to them

Once someone is given the HOW, this does not necessarily mean it will actually lead to change. This is usually because they don’t FEEL like it. A person may find “logical” justifications (or excuses) for why they don’t feel like changing their diet and lifestyle or following health advice presented to them (e.g. stress, busyness etc). 

How our values affect our behaviour 

What we feel like doing or not doing has a lot to do with our value system and value hierarchy. The higher up a certain value is on our value hierarchy, the more likely we are to prioritise it and act upon it. Our values are created over our lifetime, based on our emotional experiences and how we interpret these experiences. Our emotional brain creates our values and our thinking brain, in order to avoid psychological conflict, often looks to “logically” justify it. As seen in the example above.

This is how we get led to believe that what feels correct, is in fact correct. However, this is likely due to our thinking brain justifying our emotional choices based on values that are made by our emotional brain. Since our values are created using our emotional brain, they are manufactured based on how we feel in response to external experiences and how we feel in response to these experiences is purely subjective. This means that what may feel correct is not always correct.

When we sabotage our health and wellbeing at the expense of “other” behaviours, this almost always means that we value those “other” behaviours over certain behaviours that benefit our health and wellbeing. We FEEL like prioritising “other” behaviours over behaviours that benefit our health. For example, we may drink to FEEL socially comfortable, even though drinking affects our health. Or we may eat processed food to numb how we FFEL when we are in emotional discomfort.

In our modern world, people often neglect their health and wellbeing in the pursuit of things that society tells us to value (e.g. career and money). Prioritising our health and wellbeing may be perceived as requiring a lot of effort with very little reward because it doesn’t give us what we are told to value. What we don’t realise is that we need to have good health to be the best versions of ourselves and achieve our goals. We live in a world of instant gratification and prioritising your diet and lifestyle on a day to day basis doesn’t give you an instant reward, which is why we aren’t taught to value it as much as other things.

People often neglect their health and wellbeing because they don’t value themselves and have low self-worth. They are likely to know in a logical place that they should look after their health better, however they FEEL like they don’t deserve better. Their values around their lack of self-worth is what drives their behaviour.  

(Note: Some people may even neglect their health because their health issues define them, it may give them a sense of purpose or are a source of gaining attention from other people. These people may not listen to logical advice given from health practitioners and unknowingly self-sabotage their health by neglecting the big issues that they don’t FEEL like addressing).  

Changing our values to prioritise health and wellbeing

When we try to change our value system, such as prioritising our diet and lifestyle habits, we often try to do this using our thinking brain. However, this can lead to some issues as the emotional brain is what drives action and creates our values. Therefore, we need to adjust our values via our emotional brain. 

When we act “emotionally,” we perceive ourselves as lazy or having a lack of self-control. This is because self-control is perceived as the ability to put aside our emotions and act purely using our thinking brain, which is often very hard to do because emotion drives behaviour. People with perceived self-control don’t have a stronger thinking brain. Rather, their emotional brain has created values that cause them to behave in a certain way that makes them appear to have lots of self-control. 

For example, an athlete at a party deciding not to drink and have an early night may be perceived to have lots of self-control. However it is likely they value the feeling of performing at their best the next day, over the feeling of having temporary fun one night and waking up hungover. Therefore, instead of trying to fight our emotional brain, we just need to change the value hierarchy it acts upon. 

To change the emotional brain, we have to speak to it in a language that it understands, which is, well, emotion. It doesn’t understand logic. 

So instead of throwing facts and figures at it (e.g. having a healthy diet does x, y and z), we should be talking to it in emotional terms. We often know the basic logic behind why we should change our habits as this information is all around us, but as mentioned above, this usually isn’t enough to change behaviour. We need to change our behaviour because we feel like it. 

When our thinking brain is overloaded with information, it requires a lot of mental effort to sift through all of this to find what is relevant and not relevant. This is even harder if a person has limited knowledge around healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Therefore, our thinking brain takes short cuts, which is where our emotional brain comes in.

This is because our emotional brain comes to conclusions quickly, without a lot of mental effort. It makes decisions fast and based on emotion. Sometimes these can be irrational and totally subjective. This is why too much information can inhibit a person to change their diet and lifestyle because it will stress the thinking brain and pass on duties to the emotional brain that will make quick decisions based on emotion and instant gratification.

Using our emotional brain, we should visualize how it would FEEL to lose weight. How it would feel to have more energy. How it would feel to decrease debilitating symptoms that affect our daily life. We need to visualise how it would feel to be in better health. We should also think about how uncomfortable the feelings of regret would be if we didn’t change our diet and lifestyle because we were too afraid of the discomfort and challenge. The pain of regret is often a lot greater than the pain we would endure by changing our diet and lifestyle, which ultimately has a reward. Regret has no reward. 

Fruitful visualisation can also be brought about by “what if” questions. What if I prioritised my health and wellbeing and put it at the top of my value hierarchy? What if I decided to not eat out every weekend and drink? When asking “what if” questions, you could then start to think about what this would all mean to you in your life. What is its importance to you? If you changed your habits to improve your health and wellbeing, what would this really mean to you? How would it be important to you?

The answer to these questions is usually a lot more than just decreasing uncomfortable symptoms. They usually have something to do with an aspect of your life that is very personal and emotional (i.e. a person may want to decrease their fatigue so they can play with their kids). Ultimately, the meaning and importance has something to do with your value system as well. 

When doing all of this, you know you are on the right track if this visualisation feels uncomfortable and difficult. You should find yourself having to push other values down the hierarchy ladder. Other values that you used to value more than your own health and wellbeing. 

It should feel painful and uncomfortable because in reality, discomfort, fear, failure and pain is necessary for growth and change in all aspects of our lives. Anything worth doing in life takes pain, fear, discomfort, failure and negative emotions. Our struggles define our success. Diet and lifestyle changes are no different.

The discomfort is worth it when you discover your meaning of why you want to change your habits to improve your health and envision how it would feel to be healthier. Knowing this makes the discomfort worth it. 

When we change our values, we often lose other values that we used to cling onto and this can feel uncomfortable, as these values may have been linked with our sense of self-worth and our idea of fun/enjoyment/pleasure. 

What to do when you fail?

At some point, you will likely fail in this process, because the emotional brain is stubborn. When this happens, show empathy/self-compassion to your emotional brain instead of judgement. Pick yourself up and keep trying. Don’t give up. It is the only battle worth fighting because value adjustment is the key to a fulfilling life.  

Furthermore, instead of treating ourselves as a means to an end, we need to start treating ourselves as an end. We need to behave unconditionally and do certain things simply because they are the right thing to do. We need to prioritise and look after our health because it is simply the right thing to do. Even if this means going through some pain or discomfort. 

On a final note, profound emotional experiences can often be enough to change values and a value hierarchy. Relating this back to your diet and lifestyle, a health crisis, health scare or a severe decline in a person’s health can often lead to emotional reactions that kick a person into gear and get them to change their values around their health. Therefore, they improve their diet and lifestyle. Prevention is always better than a cure, so please don’t let things get so bad before you decide to change. By then, it may be too late.

On an intellectual level, if you are reading this, you know you need to improve your diet and lifestyle to achieve better health outcomes. And while one limiting factor may be that you don’t know how, once you find out how, you will only engage in this when your emotional brain, values and thinking brain all align together.

Why do people do things they know they shouldn’t? Why don’t people do things that they know they should? For example, people smoke and have poor diet and lifestyles, when they know this is not good for them. Why is this? From a logical and intellectual perspective, it all makes sense. However, the reason for this is because we make decisions and act upon these decisions based on feelings and emotions, not logic. This is especially true when it comes to diet and lifestyle habits. 

Emotional brain vs logical brain

We have two brains, a thinking brain and an emotional brain. They often don’t communicate well. If the thinking brain is at a disconnect with the emotional brain, we will make emotionally driven choices and engage in emotionally driven behaviours that are not in line with our thinking brain’s logic. 

This is because our emotional brain drives behaviour and action. Thinking is merely just the synapses and neurons in our brains, whereas emotion drives us to action. Emotion is action and actions are emotion.

Think about it, anxiety causes our heart to beat faster, it causes a sick feeling in our stomachs and makes our palms all sweaty. Joy lights up our faces. Anger can cause aggressive behaviour. Our emotional brain is subjective, emotion driven and comes to conclusions fast. The thinking brain is based around reason, logic and is objective. However, it can be slow and fatigue easily if over used. When it tires or is overwhelmed, it goes to the emotional brain for help, which is not always ideal.

When we engage in behaviours driven by our emotional brain, that is not in line with our thinking brain, it can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety. But after a while, in order to avoid/minimise psychological conflict (i.e. guilt and anxiety), our thinking brain gives into our stubborn emotional brain and “logically” justifies its choices. 

For example, you may justify eating/drinking a particular unhealthy food/drink because you were feeling tired or stressed and this food/drink makes you feel good and gives you comfort. Maybe you felt like you earned it because you worked hard. Maybe you didn’t want to offend the person who served it to you. Maybe you just really like the taste. All of these choices are based on feelings and emotions. 

When you think about it, these justifications for your actions, which are sometimes perceived as “excuses,” are not logical. They seem like they are logical to you because they are based on emotions, which drives our behaviour. Why should tiredness, stress, politeness or work ethic have anything to do with what you put in your mouth? Especially if it threatens long term health goals? You think that those things should have something to do with what you put in your mouth, however that is just a subjective feeling and habit you have gotten used to. 

Our thinking brain logically justifies our emotional brains behaviours because our emotional brain can be immature and tell our thinking brain to treat ourselves as a means to an end. This means we see all behaviours as a transactional exchange. This leads people to feel like they deserve certain things in response to certain behaviours (e.g. I worked hard so I deserve x, y and z). 

We know on an intellectual level that we should eat better foods, exercise more, sleep more, stop smoking, stop drinking etc. But we don’t do it. Why? It is usually because we don’t FEEL like it. We FEEL like doing the opposite and “logically” justify it, which may in fact be quite illogical. 

The longer we justify our emotional brain’s choices with our thinking brain, the more we actually start to believe it. This often becomes a large barrier to changing our diet and lifestyle habits because we believe our emotional brain. 

Our emotional brain drives these poor choices around our diet and lifestyle based on how we FEEL. It is very rarely based on what we think, because “information” around our health is very accessible these days. People may not always know exactly HOW to go about changing diet and lifestyle habits and might need guidance in this area, however the majority of the time, they certainly KNOW they need to change their habits based on information presented to them

Once someone is given the HOW, this does not necessarily mean it will actually lead to change. This is usually because they don’t FEEL like it. A person may find “logical” justifications (or excuses) for why they don’t feel like changing their diet and lifestyle or following health advice presented to them (e.g. stress, busyness etc). 

How our values affect our behaviour 

What we feel like doing or not doing has a lot to do with our value system and value hierarchy. The higher up a certain value is on our value hierarchy, the more likely we are to prioritise it and act upon it. Our values are created over our lifetime, based on our emotional experiences and how we interpret these experiences. Our emotional brain creates our values and our thinking brain, in order to avoid psychological conflict, often looks to “logically” justify it. As seen in the example above.

This is how we get led to believe that what feels correct, is in fact correct. However, this is likely due to our thinking brain justifying our emotional choices based on values that are made by our emotional brain. Since our values are created using our emotional brain, they are manufactured based on how we feel in response to external experiences and how we feel in response to these experiences is purely subjective. This means that what may feel correct is not always correct.

When we sabotage our health and wellbeing at the expense of “other” behaviours, this almost always means that we value those “other” behaviours over certain behaviours that benefit our health and wellbeing. We FEEL like prioritising “other” behaviours over behaviours that benefit our health. For example, we may drink to FEEL socially comfortable, even though drinking affects our health. Or we may eat processed food to numb how we FFEL when we are in emotional discomfort.

In our modern world, people often neglect their health and wellbeing in the pursuit of things that society tells us to value (e.g. career and money). Prioritising our health and wellbeing may be perceived as requiring a lot of effort with very little reward because it doesn’t give us what we are told to value. What we don’t realise is that we need to have good health to be the best versions of ourselves and achieve our goals. We live in a world of instant gratification and prioritising your diet and lifestyle on a day to day basis doesn’t give you an instant reward, which is why we aren’t taught to value it as much as other things.

People often neglect their health and wellbeing because they don’t value themselves and have low self-worth. They are likely to know in a logical place that they should look after their health better, however they FEEL like they don’t deserve better. Their values around their lack of self-worth is what drives their behaviour.  

(Note: Some people may even neglect their health because their health issues define them, it may give them a sense of purpose or are a source of gaining attention from other people. These people may not listen to logical advice given from health practitioners and unknowingly self-sabotage their health by neglecting the big issues that they don’t FEEL like addressing).  

Changing our values to prioritise health and wellbeing

When we try to change our value system, such as prioritising our diet and lifestyle habits, we often try to do this using our thinking brain. However, this can lead to some issues as the emotional brain is what drives action and creates our values. Therefore, we need to adjust our values via our emotional brain. 

When we act “emotionally,” we perceive ourselves as lazy or having a lack of self-control. This is because self-control is perceived as the ability to put aside our emotions and act purely using our thinking brain, which is often very hard to do because emotion drives behaviour. People with perceived self-control don’t have a stronger thinking brain. Rather, their emotional brain has created values that cause them to behave in a certain way that makes them appear to have lots of self-control. 

For example, an athlete at a party deciding not to drink and have an early night may be perceived to have lots of self-control. However it is likely they value the feeling of performing at their best the next day, over the feeling of having temporary fun one night and waking up hungover. Therefore, instead of trying to fight our emotional brain, we just need to change the value hierarchy it acts upon. 

To change the emotional brain, we have to speak to it in a language that it understands, which is, well, emotion. It doesn’t understand logic. 

So instead of throwing facts and figures at it (e.g. having a healthy diet does x, y and z), we should be talking to it in emotional terms. We often know the basic logic behind why we should change our habits as this information is all around us, but as mentioned above, this usually isn’t enough to change behaviour. We need to change our behaviour because we feel like it. 

When our thinking brain is overloaded with information, it requires a lot of mental effort to sift through all of this to find what is relevant and not relevant. This is even harder if a person has limited knowledge around healthy diet and lifestyle habits. Therefore, our thinking brain takes short cuts, which is where our emotional brain comes in.

This is because our emotional brain comes to conclusions quickly, without a lot of mental effort. It makes decisions fast and based on emotion. Sometimes these can be irrational and totally subjective. This is why too much information can inhibit a person to change their diet and lifestyle because it will stress the thinking brain and pass on duties to the emotional brain that will make quick decisions based on emotion and instant gratification.

Using our emotional brain, we should visualize how it would FEEL to lose weight. How it would feel to have more energy. How it would feel to decrease debilitating symptoms that affect our daily life. We need to visualise how it would feel to be in better health. We should also think about how uncomfortable the feelings of regret would be if we didn’t change our diet and lifestyle because we were too afraid of the discomfort and challenge. The pain of regret is often a lot greater than the pain we would endure by changing our diet and lifestyle, which ultimately has a reward. Regret has no reward. 

Fruitful visualisation can also be brought about by “what if” questions. What if I prioritised my health and wellbeing and put it at the top of my value hierarchy? What if I decided to not eat out every weekend and drink? When asking “what if” questions, you could then start to think about what this would all mean to you in your life. What is its importance to you? If you changed your habits to improve your health and wellbeing, what would this really mean to you? How would it be important to you?

The answer to these questions is usually a lot more than just decreasing uncomfortable symptoms. They usually have something to do with an aspect of your life that is very personal and emotional (i.e. a person may want to decrease their fatigue so they can play with their kids). Ultimately, the meaning and importance has something to do with your value system as well. 

When doing all of this, you know you are on the right track if this visualisation feels uncomfortable and difficult. You should find yourself having to push other values down the hierarchy ladder. Other values that you used to value more than your own health and wellbeing. 

It should feel painful and uncomfortable because in reality, discomfort, fear, failure and pain is necessary for growth and change in all aspects of our lives. Anything worth doing in life takes pain, fear, discomfort, failure and negative emotions. Our struggles define our success. Diet and lifestyle changes are no different.

The discomfort is worth it when you discover your meaning of why you want to change your habits to improve your health and envision how it would feel to be healthier. Knowing this makes the discomfort worth it. 

When we change our values, we often lose other values that we used to cling onto and this can feel uncomfortable, as these values may have been linked with our sense of self-worth and our idea of fun/enjoyment/pleasure. 

What to do when you fail?

At some point, you will likely fail in this process, because the emotional brain is stubborn. When this happens, show empathy/self-compassion to your emotional brain instead of judgement. Pick yourself up and keep trying. Don’t give up. It is the only battle worth fighting because value adjustment is the key to a fulfilling life.  

Furthermore, instead of treating ourselves as a means to an end, we need to start treating ourselves as an end. We need to behave unconditionally and do certain things simply because they are the right thing to do. We need to prioritise and look after our health because it is simply the right thing to do. Even if this means going through some pain or discomfort. 

On a final note, profound emotional experiences can often be enough to change values and a value hierarchy. Relating this back to your diet and lifestyle, a health crisis, health scare or a severe decline in a person’s health can often lead to emotional reactions that kick a person into gear and get them to change their values around their health. Therefore, they improve their diet and lifestyle. Prevention is always better than a cure, so please don’t let things get so bad before you decide to change. By then, it may be too late.

On an intellectual level, if you are reading this, you know you need to improve your diet and lifestyle to achieve better health outcomes. And while one limiting factor may be that you don’t know how, once you find out how, you will only engage in this when your emotional brain, values and thinking brain all align together.