Why IS Change So Hard?
Change is something that is constant. Our lives never really stay the same, from altering our commute due to construction, to our beautiful aging bodies, we have a constant parade of change going on in our lives. So, you’d think a welcome change we are trying to make for ourselves would be easy, right?
"...when this system feels something costs too much energy, it signals our bodies to resist."
Sometimes. It depends of the size and scope of the change. Upgrading to a new type of soap isn’t as demanding (energetically speaking) as upgrading to new e-mail software. And that is at the heart of all change, the energy investment it takes to make the shift. In addition to the mental investment needed to consciously do something new, we also have a system inside of us (called the limbic system) that is constantly monitoring what it “costs” us to do something. The structures and interacting areas of the limbic system are involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory, so when this system feels something costs too much energy, it signals our bodies to resist. Not our brain, our body. It is an autonomous function that does not require conscious thought – it just happens.
"We pay attention to what is happening in our body when we are making changes in our life and use this awareness to our advantage."
What does all this mean? It means the act of mentally choosing to change a behaviour requires us to re-wire our brains (the neural pathways associated with a specific task or action, like bypassing the sugar bowl at breakfast rather than dipping into it) AND rewire our bodies. So how do we do that? We pay attention to what is happening in our body when we are making changes in our life and use this awareness to our advantage.
"...yet as I contemplate my choices there is a subtle tension that arises in the muscles in my upper body..."
I’ll give you an example. I’m often at the mercy of drive-thru food for a mid-day meal. When confronted with the menu board it’s easy to make poor dietary choices. However, at many fast food joints there are one or two menu items that offer better nutrition, and yet as I contemplate my choices there is a subtle tension that arises in the muscles in my upper body. These muscles relax when I contemplate the “usual” calorie loaded choice, and subtly flex again as I consider the less exciting but more nutritional choice. Some of this is happening in my brain (“I really want that sugar-infused drink with my meal …but know I should opt for water instead) but some of it is the limbic system pushing me towards the usual choice so as to just get on with it and refuel, rather than burn more fuel figuring out how to make the “right” choice.
"...if I connect to what my body is signaling while I am in the midst of making a change, I can see what is going on and instead choose something new..."
Check it out for yourself using a change you are in the midst of making; what does your body do as you make the shift? This is why it’s important to stay connected with what your body is feeling, and acknowledge the tension, or emotion, that is stored there. Continuing with my example, if I connect to what my body is signaling while I am in the midst of making a change, I can see what is going on and instead choose something new, rather than caving in to the old pattern. I can say “Hello limbic system, thanks for looking out for me and guiding me to make the quick and sure choice. I know you’ll like this choice much better in the long term, and together we’ll make this a new pattern”. It takes intention, consistency and time to make changes, ensure you attend to both your body and your brain when you embark on them and you’ll have a greater chance at success.
“Every human has four endowments - self-awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom... The power to choose, to respond, to change.” - Stephen Covey
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