Overcoming Autopilot: Interrupting the Brain’s Reward System

Posted by | Nov 8, 2017

The job of our brains is to police our environment and react to threats and opportunities in ways that benefit our survival. Snap decisions are hard-coded: Is something a problem? Is there a reward? Our brain acts as command central to evaluate situations instantly, a function perfected over thousands of years of evolution. To do its job effectively, our mind needs to move quickly, and that’s why the brain loves a good hack.

In order to make fast decisions, our mind values predictability and automaticity, and rewards desired behavior with an enjoyable wave of dopamine. Our brains chunk and store scripts for instant retrieval and generate a gut response that can only be overridden by the moderating influence of the CEO in our prefrontal cortex. When those executive functions aren’t up to the task, the body relies on stored information that is governed by emotions. That can be a challenge for students with executive function deficits. Their fight-or-flight response is already on overdrive. How can they bypass that reward system and reduce impulsivity and overreaction?

At Evoke Learning, our mentors and coaches work with students to encourage self-reflection, enable them to recognize emotional responses in themselves and others, and practice intentional relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation and biofeedback. This helps our clients reduce stress and anxiety, move away from habitual thinking, strengthen learning, and make wise choices. Visit us online for additional information.

Read more about the neuroscience of reward and threat in this blog post by Kim E. Ruyle.