Why We Buffer and What to Do About It

A part of our brain is hard-wired to keep us static and safe. It resists change of any kind, and sends us thoughts that status-quo is the safest way to go. Because of this, when we have a task to do that is unfamiliar, or we just don’t like doing it, our brain sends us thoughts of other things to do. This can also happen when we have a thought that creates an emotion we don’t want to feel. The brain tries to distract us from the discomfort. I call this buffering.

Buffering usually involves things like binge-watching Netflix or browsing FaceBook, Instagram, or Pinterest etc. It also often involves eating foods that are not very healthy for us, like chocolate or other sweet or salty snacks. Other buffering activities can involve those little items on our to-do list that are easier for us to accomplish than the thing we’re avoiding.

Most buffering activities have a net negative outcome. In other words, nothing good comes of it. However, there are some buffering activities, like cleaning or organizing things, that can have a positive outcome, but still doesn’t accomplish that unpleasant task that you set out to do before your brain distracted you.

So, how can we keep our brain from sabotaging our efforts to change? The first step is to recognize that we are buffering. We need to be more mindful of our activities and ask ourselves whether we’re avoiding doing something or thinking about something. We then need to be very honest with ourselves, and dig deeply to discern why we are doing a buffering activity.

Once we identify that we are, indeed, buffering, and have identified why, then we can address the cause. If it is a feeling we are avoiding, then that feeling needs to be allowed and processed (see my blog post about processing feelings). If it is a task we are avoiding, it is very helpful to set goals and schedule not only the desired task, but also schedule in those other little tasks we do as buffering. That takes the excuse away from our brain, and everything gets done.

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