Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Dear members of the press and others:

Part of the brain that is involved in initiating activities is the Basal Ganglia, a structure at the base of the forebrain involved in motor learning, muscle memory, skills, and habits (such as typing without consciously deciding where to put your fingers for each letter). When you decide (in the Prefrontal Cortex) that you want to initiate a certain action, such as standing up, then your brain goes into sequencing mode. This is a simplistic model, but essentially signals are sent from the prefrontal cortex and the primary motor cortex (a structure that controls your muscles) to the Basal Ganglia.

Myriad things are happening in your brain at the moment you make the rational decision to stand up. As your brain rapidly sends the signals via a variety of pathways to the alpha-motor neurons of your skeletal muscles, another area of your brain is pumping Dopamine up to the Basal Ganglia. This Dopamine is vital for initiating and repeating activities. It reassures the Basal Ganglia that the movement is good, it is correct, and it should continue. For instance, when you strike a chord on a piano and it turns out awful, the Dopamine flow is reduced (but never completely stopped). When you strike it correctly, the Dopamine flows rapidly again, and you feel good.

When Dopamine flow is chronically reduced by means of a disorder, you end up with a condition such as Parkinson's Disease, where it is very difficult for a person to initiate an activity. Although they consciously may want to, it may be near impossible for them to get started. (Once they get started they can carry out the activity just fine if they know it well, but if they try to initiate stopping the activity, they may not be able to and hence might run into a wall, keep rocking their chair, etc.)

This morning, I laid in bed for an hour after my alarm went off, dozing and reawakening with the horrible guilt of knowing that I should be getting up to swim. I eventually got so frustrated that I hauled myself out of bed and shuffled off to the YMCA, where I had a satisfying, invigorating morning swim. But it seemed as though just getting that momentum, getting that initiation to occur, was near impossible. My brain was hampered with indecision as it weighed the almost equal balances of staying in a warm bed to sleep, against getting up and swimming and refreshing myself.

The brain weighs decisions in terms of the power of various inputs synapsing upon the neurons - how much weight I place on an input is up to me. Are the inputs of staying warm, comfy, and resting more important to me? Or is getting up, starting my day, eating oatmeal, and swimming more important? I need to rationally and logically place more and more weight on the side of getting up to go swim, and downplay the attractions of staying in bed, as that conviction will make it easier for my brain to tend towards the desired activity. I need to cognitively reinforce myself as I go to the YMCA, swim, and relax afterward - consciously think about how good it felt, how refreshed I was, how motivated I was, how enjoyable it was.

I need to make the decision process simpler so that the initiation process will follow more easily, with solid conviction to back it up. Flow Dopamine, flow!


Mrs H
tweet us @_mrs_h
Follow us on Facebook!



Related Posts with Thumbnails