It’s that time of year where every other media piece is about creating new habits, making a life change, or finding the sunlit path to your ideal future self. I work with people all year on making change. Change isn’t easy. Wanting a change, or to change, just isn’t enough.
Change is a complex process, and understanding and aligning with how we’re wired, can help change along. If change is on your mind, these 3 considerations and support questions may boost your success in reaching your target, and having it stick.
Your brain doesn’t really want change. Pushing for change puts you somewhat in direct conflict with how your brain works. Your brain is inherently lazy. It wants to keep on doing the very same things it has been doing because those familiar routines and behaviors are experienced as safe, as familiar, and perhaps most importantly, as requiring very low energy to orchestrate.
Change is a tipping point. This tipping point occurs when something we have been doing no longer serves us and we begin choosing the new, versus the old. Remember, your brain’s #1 job is to keep you alive, not keep you “happy”. Nudging this tipping point along requires some deep and honest reflection around your choices and what those choices really indicate you are choosing. If below the surface, there is enough reward and gain from an existing behavior or outlook, even if it is the very one you want to change, it will be much harder to shift to the new. Being in touch with “the right why”, as named by Michelle Segar, helps. Being very clear on both the immediate as well as long term gratification that comes with the desired new is a key part of motivation that helps us make this tipping point happen. Know the story of what makes this important for you and tell that story to yourself often, particularly in the moment of choice when the old is more inviting that the new, and priming your environment with the new choice you want to make, are all aspects of crossing that tipping point.
Change is most often an on-ramp, and rarely a hard pivot. Once you’ve identified the new behavior or outlook you want to maintain, it is critical to find consistency. Consistency is the key to the new state of being becoming sustainable. With consistent repetition, your brain begins to adapt to this something different you are doing. It is this repetition, this consistency in practicing and choosing the new over the old that triggers neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s ability to organize itself around what it repeatedly experiences. As you continue replicating the new target, your brain begins to pay attention, realizing it is best served by finding a less energy intense way of managing the execution. It is with that brain change, that things become habituated for us, being managed and executed from a less energy utilizing part of the brain, often called the basal ganglia systems, or habit center.
It is when your brain has perceived enough consistent repetition that it sees a new pattern that it creates a new pathway and process. This is when that new effort or action or outlook stops feeling so labor intensive and begins to occur more on autopilot. Here’s a 2 minute visual that helps to see what is happening when it comes to making change in your brain.
If you’re stuck and feeling like you can’t make that new thing or way of life stick, consider these questions:
- What are all the positives in the old, current thinking or doing? In what way does is it serve me? In what ways doesn’t it?
- What are the positives and gains of the new
- Readiness comes when you can see and have a readiness to move toward those new gains and rewards, and are willing to engage in the work to get there.
- How can you tell the story of how that old
pattern longer serves you and instead what does and why in a way that you
whole-heartedly believe and can subscribe to?
- Have a chat with your heart, and not just in your head.
- What makes the new that you are striving for important and meaningful?
- What will change for me when I make this happen?
- Think it, feel it, imagine the detail of it, make it multi-sensory.
- What rebuttal will I give when your brain says ‘skip
the new routine, just for today’?
- Having a ready response for that push back you’ll get matters. A good rebuttal will be something that you can tell yourself (your brain and your heart) you’ll feel immediately after doing even the smallest micro step into the new vs. the old?
- How can I prime my environment so my brain notices and is almost can’t not do to do the activity?
- What do I need to remove from my environment because it undermines my want power?
Remember, change is possible and happens all the time. Everything you repeatedly do now, is because of these very same principles. Huh, consider that!
(BeingWell podcast by Forrest and Rick Hansen, No Sweat by Michelle Segar, Sentis, Decisional-Balance concepts, general neuroscience principles)