Gene, I really like the concept you talk about all the time about how the system is always trying to do what is best for us. I especially like the way you describe the way a part of the system are trying to be helpful but sometimes is really causing trouble because it isn’t working in the most helpful way. (I think you use the analogy of being afraid of mice. The fear is trying to keep us safe, which is good, but there is no real danger.) My question is this: How come my system knows that eating lots of ice cream isn’t good for me, but I still crave (and eat) a large bowl every night after work? If my system were really trying to do what is best for it wouldn’t be craving something that isn’t healthy. I’m I doing something wrong or does my system have it out for me?
This is a great question. You are exactly right. The system is only going to do what is best for us. With that being said it seems odd that it would encourage us in the form of cravings to do something that was away from health and well-being especially when we know what health and well being is.
The answer can be found in understanding what to “do what is best for us” means.
The reason you are having a hard time with the craving is because the system has been put in a position of having to choose between two things that have benefits, but each of these outcomes also have some negative side effect(s). Because there is not a cut a dry best choice it makes the decision harder (and as we will see, it is very hard for the subconscious to deal with the understanding the future).
Let’s look at a much simpler example of this situation to see the concept in action. Then we will apply that information to the situation that is posed in the question.
Let’s pretend that it is late afternoon/early evening and you are gripped with a horrible migraine headache. This is one of those headaches that blurs your vision and makes you nauseous. If left untreated you are not going to be able to eat dinner and you are not going to sleep much tonight. (Not to mention you are in horrific pain.)
You have some medicine that can remove the all the symptoms of the pain and nausea. If you take it you are going to be able to sleep through the night, but because it takes a little time for the medicine to clear the system you are going to wake up a little groggy in the morning and you are not going to be very sharp until about lunchtime.
I don’t know about you, but I am going to willing to exchange a slightly groggy morning to be pain free and nausea free right now. Even if I know I am going to be wiped out for the whole morning the next day I am going to be very temped to take the medicine. I am in pain right now and I am going to be willing to exchange that for a somewhat undefined feeling pain in the future.
The example of the ice cream given in the question has exact same situation happening. I just happens to be in a much more subtle form.
Typically when we are dealing with a craving it is because there is something that is currently undesirable going on inside of us. In most cases it is a negative emotion like anger, loneliness, and/or hopelessness. The system doesn’t want to feel these emotions and it knows that there are certain foods that are going cover these emotions.
That is the reason we call some foods comfort food. Much like an aspirin provides comfort to our headache, comfort food provides relief to our undesirable emotions. In the example given in the question more than likely there is a negative emotion that is being experienced at the end of the workday and the system is just trying to comfort and mask it.
Much like the example of the migraine headache the system is trading comforting the negative emotion for the possibility of having negative health outcomes from eating ice cream every day.
With that being said there is one big difference between the decision to take the migraine medicine and the craving for comfort food. When we choose to take the migraine medicine we are making the decision with our conscious minds. We are able to choose the long-term goal over the short-term relief. It might be hard to put up with the pain, but if we have something really important the next morning we might choose to endure the pain right now so we are sharp in the morning.
The subconscious mind is not capable of this sort of understanding. To the subconscious mind the only moment is now. The subconscious doesn’t understand the past or future. Since the subconscious only knows this moment it is not going to be able to consider the long-term consequences of the choice very well (if at all). In this case it only knows the pain of this moment and what it can do to comfort it.
The subconscious mind is doing “what is best for us” through the lens of it recognizes pain (the negative emotion) and it is going to do what it can to care for us (crave something that is going to mask the emotion).
That is the reason that it is so important for us to use tool like Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT)/tapping to work with the underlying issues that are creating our “too much” behaviors (like craving too much ice cream).
Sure it is possible to tap every time a craving comes up to make it go away so we make a good choice in the moment, but it is much more effective if we are able to deal with the underlying issue which eliminates the lingering negative emotions. When the lingering negative emotions are gone then the system isn’t going to have something to comfort and the craving will disappear.