Boost Self-Image & Overcome Your Set-Points

You have “set points” in your brain, like setting a thermostat. Your set point is your comfort zone, and it operates automatically based on your self-image.

Self Image Definition

Your self image is what you believe about yourself at a deep, unconscious level. What you believe about yourself becomes true. Your brain will literally filter and distort your perceptions of reality to match your self image.

In his book, Psycho-Cybernetics, Maxwell Multz wrote,

Self image sets the boundaries of individual accomplishment.

In other words, one cannot act against their self image. Self image is the key to behaviour and personality. In order to really change actions and habits and outcomes, we need to change our self image. Once we change our self image, our behaviours, and our resulting outcomes, change automatically.

Automation in the Brain

Brains love automation because automation conserves energy. Brains use more energy than any other organ in the body. Considering the volume of work a brain does, breathing, thinking, walking, talking, blinking etc. etc. etc., this is not a surprise. To be more efficient, the brain automates as much as possible. This is why you have habits and set points.

There are set points in your brain for many things including weight and health, relationships and wealth. If you’ve been earning the same amount for the last ten years, that income level is part of your (unconscious) self-image. If you try earning more, a little alarm will go off in your brain because you’re breaking out of your comfort zone.

Personally, I know I’ve been gaining and losing the same 10 lbs. for the last 4 years. I’ve dieted, I exercise, and no matter what I do, my weight keeps fluctuating in the same 10-pound range. This indicates that there is an underlying issue in my self-image that I should address. Perhaps you can think of an example from your own life?

Why is Change so Hard?

Breaking out of your comfort zone sets off alarms in the subconscious mind because it disturbs the set points controlled by your self image. Your fear response kicks in, sometimes before your conscious mind even realizes there’s an alarm. This, in turn, disrupts the subconscious autopilot that guides most of your life and habits.

Wait! Did you think you were consciously controlling your life?

Yah…no.

I hate to break it to you, but the real driver of your life is your subconscious mind. 90-plus percent of your life is run by your subconscious, automatic programming. A lot of that programming is designed to keep you safe in the familiarity of your comfort zone.

Your Uncomfortable Comfort Zone

Before I dig into the biology of the comfort zone, I’d like to be clear about what I mean by “comfort zone.” Being in your comfort zone doesn’t mean you’re comfortable. Being in your comfort zone means that things are familiar, and things that are familiar are non-threatening to your brain.

For example, say your set point, or comfort zone, keeps you overweight. Then, your comfort zone might be pretty uncomfortable, and could lead to lower confidence, health issues etc.

You decide to lose weight, and bend all your willpower to the task. However, because being overweight has become familiar and part of your identity, you will unconsciously sabotage attempts to lose weight. This is your subconscious brain trying to protect you from unfamiliarity, which the brain equates with danger.

Set Point / Comfort Zone Biology

The latest research shows that any change is interpreted as stressful in the brain. This includes both good change and bad change.

Any big change activates the amygdala. The amygdala is the fear centre of your brain, the part responsible for the fight or flight or freeze response. It’s super-ancient, and powerfully influences your actions on an unconscious and conscious level.

The fear response is one subconscious factor that powerfully drives behaviour. Your self-image is another factor that subconsciously drives behaviour.

The frontostriatal pathway in the brain holds your self image, or your subconscious identity. Your self image drives your behavior more strongly than your conscious decisions and desires. The more your frontostriatal pathway enforces a belief, the more it sets in with your hidden self-image.

Your fear response and your self image keep you locked in your comfort zone. The other factor locking you in your comfort zone is the biological drive for homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined as:

the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

​You have a teeny-tiny area in your brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus helps to maintain homeostasis.

Homeostasis is like a set point too. As an example, human bodies have a normal temperature, like a set point on a thermostat. When you go out in the winter and get cold, you shiver. Shivering helps to raise your body temperature back to normal. Alternatively, when it’s really hot, you sweat, and the cooling sweat helps to lower your temperature. In either case, your body does whatever it needs to do to get back to normal temperature.

When your hypothalamus senses a big change, it immediately wants to get back to the set point, back to homeostasis, back to “normal.” It influences your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, to get you back into your comfort zone, and into the safety of the familiar.

All of the (mainly unconscious and automatic) factors mentioned above: your fear response, your self image and homeostasis conspire to keep you in your comfort zone. The desire to stay in your comfort zone is biological, and completely natural and healthy. However, when you want to make changes in life, these same factors will work against you.

Since your brain loves autopilot, why not use that for your benefit? Learning to use the automation in your brain to boost your self image, overcome your set points and achieve your goals with less effort and struggle is a great idea! We’ll look into that right now.

How to Overcome Your “Set Point”

Change can be hard. Unfortunately, the conscious mind, and therefore your willpower, is no match for the strength, speed and power of your unconscious programming.

As Multz stated in the quote near the beginning of this post, your self image describes the limits of what is possible for you. If you want to expand what is possible for you, then you need to expand your self image.

You need to get your frontostriatal pathway on board in order to improve your self image. When your subconscious identity matches your conscious identity and desires, you will start getting the outcomes you want.

Remember that change stresses the brain, and can activate the fear centre in the amygdala. It’s okay. There is  a way to make changes without activating your fear response.

Research suggests that small changes in your thoughts or behaviors won’t activate your amygdala.

Visualization is a fantastic way to make small changes in your thinking. Creative visualization establishes clear, emotionalized targets, and the brain will automatically work towards making such a visualization true. The biology of visualization is pretty cool.

Biological Reasons Creative Visualization Works

Your brain can trap you in your comfort zone, but it can also excite you, and motivate you to take action and achieve your goals. Remember I said the brain uses a lot of energy because it does A LOT. I wasn’t kidding.

Creative visualization, particularly visualizing reaching your goals, activates the nucleus accumbens and insula. These are the motivation centers in the brain. They get you excited to take action, and taking action helps you to reach your goals. Your frontostriatal pathway has new, more empowered self image integrated with old one. You have changed from the inside out.

To get started activating the part of your brain that manages your self-image, check out this post.

Remember, the more detailed you are, the more easily you can retrain your subconscious self-image. Learning and really internalizing your new self-image requires focused attention, and spaced repetition. The effort you spend here will pay off BIG TIME, and for the rest of your life.

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