Hi, everyone. Hope you’re enjoying your Sunday morning. For those of you accustomed to receiving Sunday With Sisson in your inbox, I wanted to give you a heads up that the team and I are making some changes (just technical) with the newsletter and “Sunday With Sisson” for just a few weeks. Some of you may notice some temporary interruption in your email delivery from MDA. It’s all part of upgrading our systems. Unfortunately, there’s never a good time for these things.
In the meantime, I’ll be posting “Sunday With Sisson” letters each Sunday on the blog until we’re back to our full mailing capacity. Enjoy, and—as always—thanks for joining me here.
Good morning, folks,
I’ve been thinking about our two main nervous systems: the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system.
Regular waking conscious experience is controlled by our central nervous system. It’s the overseer or the director or the pilot (even if you subscribe to the idea that this effect of “controlling” your actions is an illusion, it feels like it).
But then there’s another system that lies underneath our conscious experience—the autonomic nervous system. The ANS regulates all the automatic and subconscious functions in the body, like breathing, heart rate, sexual arousal, stress, fear, and elation. These are the things we’re aware of but can’t directly control. We experience sexual arousal but can’t just will it to occur. It happens to us.
And our autonomic nervous system is always watching us….
Say we spend a few weeks mulling over a big decision, like asking for a raise, quitting a job, or pursuing a new business venture. At the end of the day, however, we decide to stay the course and forgo the risk.
Or maybe we want to approach that attractive man or woman, but ultimately we do not.
What is our ANS learning about us?
When you’re faced with a scary decision or situation and you shrink, your ANS learns that you’re weak, afraid, and lesser than the thing that scared you. Any future encounters with scary things will be even scarier, because your ANS has adapted to your decision. It just wants to keep you safe. If you shrunk away from the job interview or pretty woman or hard workout, it’s going to assume that you did so out of self-preservation. The next time you see a woman or man you like or want to change your profession or get back in the gym, it’s going to be even harder to go through with it.
Small decisions don’t escape the ANS either. If you pause over the donuts in the break room for a few seconds, thinking about how much you shouldn’t eat the maple bar, and then grab and devour the maple bar, you just sent a very strong message to your ANS:
This guy can’t resist maple bars. He loves maple bars. They’re probably good for him. He should eat maple bars all the time.
And then it gets much harder to resist the maple bar in the future.
What if we could reframe our decisions this way? What if, for this week, we could see each choice, each temptation, each opportunity as a means to calibrate our ANS. I wonder what the payoff could be if we chose to invest in a new psychological set point. We’re always one decision away from claiming a bolder version of ourselves.
Enjoy your Sunday, everybody.