Lifestyle & Parenting

Tame Your Brain

October 31, 2017

The brain’s risk and reward system is responsible for all of our actions, regardless of whether or not it is making wise decisions. In fact, the brain is a lot less rational than we would expect, and therefore it is important to understand how it works, and how you can use the risk and reward system to your best advantage. Forget training your brain, it’s time to tame your brain!

risk reward

The feeling of euphoria that you get when you’re on a rollercoaster or playing video games is the brain’s way of telling you that it likes to take a little risk. Experts say our brains are hardwired to take a risk or two, and that, in fact, small risks can be very healthy. One obvious example of the human brain’s penchant for risk and reward is in gambling. In small, affordable doses, betting on the results of a sports match or playing a game like roulette can be entertaining, of course, but betting with a bookmaker who’s not been certified by a gambling commission and/or the required authorities is a bigger risk, which can mean that a player loses their money altogether. Such bodies such as the Malta Gaming Authority and other regulatory bodies keep you safe online, ensuring that players don’t take risks whose rewards are disproportionate. But we see this in our daily lives, too, even when money’s not involved: we’ll trust a close friend with an important secret we don’t want out. This is a small risk whose reward is worth the trouble, but trusting a dozen acquaintances with the same secret may mean we have more of an opportunity to share, but the risk is greater.

risk reward

As with risk, the brain is hardwired to crave sugars and fats, and dopamine – the chemical released when we experience pleasure – is released in abundance when we eat sugar. Whilst this wasn’t a problem when we were hunter-gatherers, in the twenty-first century, our sedentary lifestyles lead to storing excess fats and sugars which may have otherwise been used during physical activity. The refined nature of our foods, and the hidden sugar in refined carbohydrates such as white breads are believed to be responsible for the obesity epidemic in the USA and scientists think that cupcakes could be just as addictive as cocaine. While we might be satiating our cravings, we are not filling ourselves with nutritional foods, and therefore we are often hungry, leading the brain to crave more sugar and fats. To control this sugar craving, aim to cut out processed sugars and carbohydrates for two weeks and note how the brain reacts. At first, it will probably go into overdrive, and you’re likely to feel grumpy from the sugar withdrawal. After a week or so, this should settle down, and you will find that you’re craving sugar a lot less, as your taste buds will have adjusted to prefer more savoury options.

risk reward

Your diet is just one thing controlled by a part of your brain which hasn’t quite evolved since prehistoric times. Our desire to reproduce is controlled by the brain, thus resulting in a desire to have sex. This could be why broad shoulders in men are seen as sexy, as it is a sign of strength, and in Neanderthal times would have been the sign of a good provider. In women, big hips and breasts are often seen as an innately attractive asset due to the signals they send to male brains that the women are ready to have children. These biological qualities are at odds with Western beauty ideals which favour slimmer physiques in women over the natural hips which occur with puberty.

The brain’s risk and reward system can be tricky to navigate, as we assume that we can rely on our brain for our most important decisions. The truth is that the brain is just trying to seek rewards, and we must use our consciousness to train it to know when it has had enough.


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