What Drives Our Actions

Posted Dec 09, 2021 at 18:43

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We often educate our clients on brain function. Primarily how different parts of the brain affect how we feel and what we do in different ways. The two biggest factors for this are your Prefrontal Cortex and your Limbic System. I’m sure most of our clients are sick to death of us talking about these two areas, but below is a very different explanation than you’ll have heard from me before.

While reading “Everything is F*cked” by Mark Manson a story of hope (a follow up from “Subtle art of not giving a F*ck” which is also fantastic), i came across this explanation of logical vs emotional thoughts and which drives our actions.

Before we jump in, for anyone who is unsure our Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for logical decision making (amongst other things). And our Limbic System is our emotional brain in control of fast, snap decisions such as life and death.

As clinicians we spend a lot of our time and efforts helping to upregulate (increase) the Prefrontal Cortex, making for more logical, better coordinated, healthier clients. While upregulating the Prefrontal Cortex we also aim to downregulate the Limbic System, allow clients the ability to think and act less out of emotions and thus support homeostasis better. To my surprise however Mark Manson explains his slightly opposing argument in a different way. He agrees that we want to use our Prefrontal Cortexes more and Emotional Limbic brains less but also stated how important the Limbic System is in some capacity.

This brings us to our question “ What drives our actions?”. Mark describes your actions like a car, called the conscious car. There are to passengers in this car, #1 being the Logical Prefrontal Cortex and #2 our Emotional Limbic System. He explains how one of these passengers is the driver and the other truly a passenger. He then states much to my surprise that the Emotional brain is the driver and not the logical brain and here's why. We are moved to action only by emotion. Anger pushes your body forwards, Anxiety pulls it back, Joy lifts your spirit. This leads to an obvious but important statement.

Why don’t we do things, even though we know we should? Because we don't feel like it. We don't go to the gym because we don’t feel like it. We don’t cook from scratch every night because we don’t feel like it. We don’t write that report early because we don’t feel like it. Feeling- emotion drives action.

The only reason we do, do those things is because our logical brain convinces us to. The problem being it doesn't always win. Our logical brain sometimes convinces the driving emotional brain to get off at the next exit and go to the gym in the morning because as the passenger the logical brain has the maps and the satnav to know how to get back on course. The emotional driver doesn’t, all it knows is how it feels and where it wants to go, but not how to get there.

What I suppose Mark is saying is that we don’t want to turn our emotional brain off. Or else we wouldn't feel anything and would therefore do nothing. Who wants that? Nobody, right. Instead we need the emotional brain to drive us into action but we need a really good navigating logical brian in the passenger seat to guide and direct the emotional driver. They may not always get it right, sometimes the emotional brain may turn up the radio and miss an exit but they will get back on track and arrive at the final destination eventually.