The Power of Ten

The power of 10 – the magic number that stands between cravings and control. Ten calms the battle between our two minds: the amygdala that craves instant gratification and the sober frontal cortex that foresees our bulging hips.

Our amygdala came first, developed when food was uncertain, so it grabs it while it can. The frontal cortex developed later when the fear of starvation was less and we were able to form long term goals. Enter agriculture, invention and self-control.

According to Kelly McGonigal, the trick is to wait out the grasping amygdala, which has the single-mindedness of our cat when she hears a can opener. It can't see beyond the end of its nose and doesn't give a monkey's about saving for retirement. It wants it NOW!

But if you wait ten minutes, neuroscientists have discovered, the coveted slice of chocolate cake ceases to be immediate and is shifted to a future event. Enter the frontal cortex, wagging its finger at your hips. And while you are waiting, don't argue with yourself, or try not to think about chocolate, which is the quickest way to start obsessing. Try not to think of a pink poodle and see how successful you are. Let it pass, watch how you feel and turn towards something else. I find that if I promise myself I can gave the cake in ten minutes if I still want it, my amygdala calms down – and 10 minutes later I can think rationally.

The ten minute rule Kelly says, is also the answer to procrastination, which is often caused by the sheer immensity of the task. Just set yourself to do it for ten minutes – after which you can stop. But also by which time you are engaged with it. It bypasses the awful argument with yourself and the deadly reluctance. It works really well for writer's block and I am going to suggest it to my grandchildren facing essays.


More info:

Kelly McGonigal has written two books, both of which are full of fascinating facts and tips. She explains how our minds work and how to manage them. Highly recommended.

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters and What You Can Do to Get More of it by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How You Can Get Good at it by Kelly McGonigsl, Ph.D.

About UntraveledRoads

Fascinated by life, looking for answers to chronic pain and finding unexpected gifts. Interested in people, ideas, healing and humour. I am very happily married with three children and a kitten. As English born immigrants to Canada, we have family spread overseas, a daughter in South Africa and one in England. We also run a charity in South Africa to educate black, rural South African Women. Our first girl from a rural township has just graduated as an accountant from Johannesburg University and got a good job in a bank.
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