CHAPTER 11:

The POWER of WANTING

Earlier you learned about the appetite system and the “wanting” part of the brain. This is hardwired into our deep brain and serves as a permanent feature that allows us to survive in this world – gathering energy from the environment so that we can move through space and time and ultimately pass on our genes to the next generation.

Without wanting for calorie intake, we would not eat. We would simply whither away and die! We as human beings with all the richness of our society, culture, language, arts… everything – would not be here.  So often we may curse that “wanting” but it is something to also be grateful for. In fact, since ancient ancient history “wanting” and the motivation to seek calories from the environment was the main driver of the development of nervous systems in all organisms. Our appetite system is not some little side hobby. It is absolutely core to our survival – just as essential as our heart beat or breath.

Our human ancestors have roamed the earth for over 250,000 yrs and 99% of that time we have been a hunter gatherer society.  In fact, it is only in the last couple of hundred years that the industrial era happened and all the perks of gas powered cars, cheap plastics and goods, mass agriculture with pesticides and chemicals, sky rise buildings, electricity and technology with screens, and a complete overhaul of our food systems. Rather than digging for small potatoes in the ground, hunting for days to maybe kill a beaver, climbing a tall tree for a bee hive to get honey, we can simply pick up the phone or open our pantry and freezer to find thousands and thousands of calories. It is no wonder we as a human species are beginning to see the effects of overnutrition – it is a completely logical outcome. It just happens to be that by random chance of genetic lottery – some of our appetite systems are prone to overeating in this environment and some are not. Did you recall me saying that living with weight is not an individuals fault?! It is simply the interaction between an appetite system that is operating in a part of the brain where there is no “light of consciousness” and an external environment. We are mostly just along for the ride.

Okay…. back to wanting! Wanting you may recall resides in the deep appetite system called the “hedonic” center or the “mesolimbic system.” This part of the brain is located just  above the deeper “homeostatic” system or “weight thermostat.” The wanting part of the brain is the “Go Getter” and the thermostat was the “gatekeeper.”

So when the gatekeeper senses energy stores are getting depleted in the body it communicates to the wanting part of the brain or the Go Getter. And in this chapter we are exploring the Go Getter more. It is important to begin noticing this fundamental and powerful part of yourself that is doing so much good… but may be generating behaviours that you wish to shift as well. And that’s when we need the lazy executive to WAKE UP and begin noticing this energy of wanting.

Still with me? If not, don’t worry… especially if you are a patient of ours or working with a health care provider that understands this process! We will go through this 1:1 or in a group.

Let’s take an example of wanting that I bring up in a video at some point.  Here is the scenario: I put my kids to bed after a long day of work and parenting. I begin to walk down the steps to the ground floor of my home. As I am walking down the steps I am feeling a bit tired and looking forward to “my time” to relax.  At this moment, deep in my brain there are brain circuits that are starting to plan my next behaviour – the strange thing?  I’m not even aware and can’t be aware of this process.  The option that “wins” is the one that has the strongest neurologic signal. It turns out that one of my favourite things to do after putting my kids to bed and going down stairs is to open the pantry and find some Goldfish or Oreos — something. The reason the neurologic signal is stronger than the signal to go down and open a book is that in the past I typically don’t go downstairs to read a book. Thus, since the signal to go to the pantry is way stronger than the signal to read a book. The idea to go to the pantry that started in a deep brain circuit activates the wanting part of the brain and my body follows it. I open the pantry door.

Okay… now, because of some practice, and out of a motivation to shift my night time eating behaviour, I become aware of this process. I tune into my thoughts and my body. I become aware that I am looking into the pantry. I take a moment now and rather than reaching in, I feel my wanting.  And that’s it! I am now for this moment not automatically following a habit. I am exercising a new muscle and that is part of the process of training the Lazy Executive.  After a moment or two or three, I let that experience go and move on with life. Maybe this time I still reach in to get my oreo. Or perhaps I close the door.

So that is my introduction to Wanting. Please feel free to read the Macklin Method module on wanting as well. If you are working with us clinically we will explore wanting in more detail. This course will also eventually have a module that allows you to work through this process in more detail as well – so stay tuned.

And kindly remember, behaviour change is hard. Barriers to change are expected. Progress is not a straight line. There are ups and downs and lots of u-turns. We are working with a deep brain biology that evolved over millions of years and we are learning how to tap into its operations for our own benefit.  So be kind and patient with yourself. Below you will find a module on “wanting” by Dr. Macklin – feel free to review! 

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