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  • Writer's pictureErin Spineto

What Adventure Does to Our Brain

The brain has different areas used for different functions. There is a part for emotions, a part for math, a part for foreign languages, a part that tells you not to curse in church.

Each part does something different. There is even a part of the brain that fires up when we think about ourselves.

Dr. Hal Hershfiled did a study in that looked at the parts of the brain that are active when we think about ourselves now and ourselves in the future and found a funny thing.

When we view ourselves now, we use the medial prefrontal cortex and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. When we think about our future selves, we use the same parts of our brain we would when thinking about another person.

Our Future Selves feel like someone else to us!

All this brain science is saying is, that making decisions about your behavior today to protect your Future Self forty years down the road is nearly impossible. Your brain sees that Future Diabetic as someone completely distinct from your Present Self.

So why deny yourself another cupcake if “that” person is the one to suffer?

Why workout today, if “he” will be the one to pay later?

There are no consequences to the Present You. Diabetes has some short-term consequences--a low will ruin our day--but those long-term consequences, the really big ones doctor’s try to threaten us with, are decades away.

And it is supremely difficult to always keep those in mind, when the payoffs for splurging are immediate. What you need to do is find a way to bring those long-term consequences into the present so your brain registers them as affect the Present You.

Adventuring does just that.

When I have an adventure on the books just a few months away, all of my decisions are made in light of the success of that adventure.

This cupcake doesn’t have to destroy my kidneys in thirty years, it might add a few ounces to my body for my 100-mile paddle in three months.

And the right decision is easy.

Another helping of dinner doesn’t have to give me heart disease in forty years, it will make my training session tomorrow feel sluggish.

No, thank you.

Getting up in the middle of the night to check my sugars doesn’t have to cause nerve damage in fifty years, it will get in the way of my recovery from a long paddle tonight.

Get out that meter.

All of those decisions become simple. With consequences for the Present Me, I will make the right decision and take excellent care of myself.

I have to.

I have an adventure to get ready for.

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