Series: The Path to Natural Health Starts Here. Part 3
Argumentatively, the biggest obstacle to making significant changes in one’s life comes from within our minds. Even if a drastic lifestyle change is necessary for our survival, knowledge of the problem and how to fix it is usually not strong enough to make such changes. This is, in part, due to the emotional connection we have with our habits.
Let us take the powerful emotional connection people have with food as an example. Well-documented research has clearly shown how dangerous fatty foods are to our health. Still, that widely know fact is not enough motivation for people to stop going through the drive-through and ordering the biggest, juiciest, tastiest burger, topping it off with fries, and a soda, of course. Foods like this have been specifically designed to cause us to stop thinking and cave in to our cravings.
We can apply this same principle to drugs, smoking, alcohol, video games, pornography, and anything else that develop an emotional attachment. The list of things people can become addicted to is endless because anything that brings us joy can become addicting. There is a physiological connection between habits and our brain.
Our brains have a built-in reward system to encourage us to continue doing things that make us feel good. There is no logic involved in this type of biological thinking; it is entirely automatic. These emotional attachments are founded on the need for self-gratification.
Our brain uses the hormone dopamine much like a dog trainer uses treats to teach new commands. That good feeling we get when experiencing something pleasurable becomes an emotional attachment causing us to repeat whatever we did to get the next dopamine hit. The more often we experience the same situation, the less reward we receive. In order to obtain the same dopamine high, we have to increase the stimulus, causing us to become dopamine junkies.
Have you personally given any thought to how many unquestioned beliefs you have and why you have them? Many of our core beliefs come from our early childhood. When beliefs and values are passed down over generations, they become a culture, which holds an almost sacred position in people’s lives. Our parents taught us how to make choices based on their belief system. Our brains, in turn, learn to reward us when we follow those guidelines and enforce these beliefs with punishment when we deviate.
Religious teachings are usually held so sacred that many refuse to test their beliefs. Many people live their life in fear of displeasing (and being severely punished by) a God that they have never seen, heard, or have any evidence of existence. This belief system, although entirely unfounded, can alter people’s perception of right and wrong, thus keeping them confined in a lifestyle that may be hurting them. For example, some religions teach that self-whipping is needed to receive forgiveness for sin. People do this at great harm to themselves physically and emotionally without questioning if their beliefs are well-founded. Can you see how personal views can harm us if they are unfounded
To be simplistic, I’ll categorize thinking into three types: (1) emotional, (2) critical, and (3) scientific. Emotional thinking is when we base our choices on our feelings. We hear phrases such as “gut instinct” to describe this type of intuitive thinking. This type of thinking is the easiest, fastest, and requires the least amount of mental effort since decisions are based on the individual’s perception of how things should be.
Critical thinking (which is not the same as thinking critically) challenges new teachings based on the reliability of the teacher. For instance, let’s say someone would come up to you and tell you that your religious belief system is wrong. Instead of automatically rejecting the idea (emotional thinking), a critical thinker would investigate the person’s reliability as an information source. They want to know if the teacher could be biased, if the source of information is reliable, and if this person is a well-educated authority on the subject matter. If the teacher fails the reliability test, the critical thinker rejects the teachings as an unreliable source.
Critical thinking is not easy work to do; thus, many don’t do it. It can be mentally draining and take lots of time deciding what sources are reliable and what isn’t. During this process, ethical dilemmas ensue since nothing is off-limits for critical thinking. The biggest flaw with critical thinking is that it’s still guesswork and doesn’t challenge the belief as much as the source. Sometimes we can end up “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when we reject an authority that we deem unreliable based on our own biases. After all, it would be impossible to research every new teaching thoroughly. So what is the best way to learn? The answer is scientific thinking.
I’ve had a lot of resistance to this idea due to people’s emotional bias against science. I find the concept especially hard to discuss with religious people who automatically reject the word “scientific” because they have a bias against scientific theories, such as evolution. Personal bias can impact scientists, just as it impacts religious people and non-religious people alike. Those who want to separate facts from faith (I define faith as belief without verifiable and repeatable evidence) eagerly accept the concept that their own beliefs could be wrong. Most emotional thinkers become angry when their beliefs are challenged; scientific thinkers accept the challenge, ready to change their personal beliefs if not well-founded.
Cognitive dissonance is a protective mechanism our brain creates to prevent us from challenging our deepest beliefs. When someone challenges things we cherish or hold sacred, our emotional thinking shuts down our minds to protect us from perceived dangers. We must understand that we all have cognitive dissonance. We are all naturally emotional thinkers, and our brains are hardwired to protect us from threats to our biased view of the way things are.
The problem with emotional thinking is that it prevents us from growing intellectually. Emotional thinking stunts us from truths because it focuses more on what we want to believe rather than searching for facts. When we challenge our beliefs, especially when we notice our cognitive dissonance, we become seekers of truth rather than gullible slaves to ignorance. After all, if we don’t question our beliefs, how will we know if our life has any real meaning?
The expression “ignorance is bliss” is a fallacy because it doesn’t absolve anyone of responsibility. What if a religion taught its members to hate others who don’t share the same belief system and go as far as approving murder or genocide of anyone who refused to convert. As an extreme example, should a person who participated in murder be acquitted of legal responsibility just because they claimed that God approved his actions? Ignorance of truths is not bliss; it’s dangerous and can cause us and others we teach significant harm.
Now that we understand how our mind accepts new information, we can use it to our advantage. From now on, when you hear something that conflicts with your personal beliefs, use this as a cue to grow intellectually by challenging your view objectively, free from bias. All the articles I will post on my blog will be specifically designed to cause you to stop and challenge your personal beliefs. At first, it will be an extremely uncomfortable and downright painful process to deconstruct the deeply held beliefs. The best way to make lasting change is to eliminate harmful addictions caused by emotional thinking and replace them with positive habits based on simple, trustworthy information.
The entire purpose of this blog is to help guide you to adapt to the best form of healthcare, a natural lifestyle. I plan to write about many topics that will challenge your belief system, including cultural and religious ideologies many hold sacred. Instead of allowing your mind to reject these posts automatically, accept the challenge against your cognitive dissonance.
My goal is to provide you with an easy-to-understand resource that will help you live the healthiest life possible, a life as close to natural as you can get in this unnatural world. My goal is to help you avoid common mistakes many make because they give into emotional thinking. I will provide you with natural “life hacks” that will help you live a happy, healthy, long, and productive life. May this blog help you break your addictions, challenge your beliefs, and help guide you to the healthiest (natural) lifestyle.