Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Try this task as quickly as you can. Take your watch off your left wrist and put it on your right wrist (or vice versa for lefthanders). Think about how different that feels. Now leave it there for 2-3 hours and try to remember how many times you looked at your dominant wrist first.
At a recent client session, one of the participants was wearing an Apple Watch with a buckle and strap. Yes, she struggled with getting the strap done up. She even extended her right arm to the person next to her for help. But, wait, it gets better . . . when her watch buzzed with a message sometime later, she automatically looked at her left wrist even though the buzz just occurred on her right one. We were all amazed! That is the power of our emotional brain!
Try similar tasks by putting your jacket or sweater on starting with the arm you don’t usually use. Put your pants on by starting with the leg you don’t usually use. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand. The easy familiar ways are habits - your emotional brain running on cruise control – almost zero thinking required. The more unfamiliar ways are your rational brain thinking about each step and passing it on to the emotional brain to take action. These actions aren’t habits . . . .yet!
Five Brief Facts About the Emotional Brain
In comparison to our rational brain, the emotional brain is:
Evolutionarily older than the rational brain (by about 1.5 million years!)
Faster than the rational brain – it is always first on the scene when we receive any stimulus.
Stronger because of its many adaptations over the millennia compared to the rational brain.
The keeper of habits that are created by the emotional and rational minds working together.
The source of energy for action.
But – that doesn’t mean the rational brain doesn’t have its own strengths. Lots of them! More on that in the next article.
Here is a brief play-by-play summary of the wristwatch event from my perspective.
In looking at the reaction of the participant with her Apple Watch, the strength of her habit of always checking her left wrist for the time overrode the rational brain that was trying to direct her gaze to her right wrist. It was able to temporarily override the rational decision by being first to react to the buzz on the wrist.
Because the habit of looking at the left wrist was so well-developed and automatic, this added the strength to the emotional mind to say, “Nope, my habit says left wrist.” This was in spite of the rational mind saying, “Nope, she put the watch on the other wrist. We need to look there.” With only a split-second delay, the rational mind figures out the problem and successfully guides the emotional mind. It reminds me of the old Keystone Cops movies from around 1915 – lots of action that didn’t seem to quite go as planned.
Remember James Clear’s quote, in his best-selling book, Atomic Habits: “The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time."
The example of changing the watch to the other wrist is a very small habit, a very small example of how our emotional and rational minds work together. But . . . it is not so small that it won’t take time to change.
When you think of much more meaningful habits, like stopping procrastination, staying on a diet, getting more exercise, etc. you can assume that these will be much harder changes. And . . .you would be right. But remember, all of our habits have been learned since birth. As a result, we can learn new habits and modify existing ones. Our brains are very capable of stopping or changing habits as well as learning new ones. That’s great news!
The Connection to Your Stress
Now, put this in the context of Making Stress Your Ally. Oftentimes, we have old habits, ways of thinking, and ways of behaving that no longer serve us well. They are creating stress in our lives and, quite often, we are not even aware of it.
It is only after we are aware of which ones are causing us stress or holding us back, that we can begin to effect change, remove those negative habits, and work on developing new ones that will contribute positively to our lives.
STOP! Take five minutes as soon as you finish this article. Think of the things you do almost automatically every day that might not be as effective as they once were. What ways of thinking or doing could be holding you back? What could you replace them with?
Want a reminder to take that five minutes more regularly in the two-three weeks?
Your Challenge – Should You Decide To Accept It!
Put your wristwatch on the “opposite” wrist and leave it there for the next two to three weeks. If you take it off to sleep or perhaps shower, make sure you put it back on that “non-dominant” wrist. It will feel awkward checking the time for a while. Use that awkward feeling to remind you to take the reflective five minutes to focus on some habit you would like to stop, change, or start.
At the end of the two – three weeks, you will find it interesting how your mind is still trying to change the old habit and start a new one!
Don’t go to bed tonight without doing this!!
Which wrist will you put your watch on tomorrow??
Remember – the decision is always yours . . . and this is a little one!