Issue 170 – Why Change is So Hard

Why Change is So Hard

By Sharon Kells

Making changes when your brain has other ideas…why change is so hard.

The latest research in neuroscience tells us that if you want to make changes in your life, your brain will not necessarily be on your side. It might actually stand in the way of what you are trying to achieve. You’re probably wondering why it would do that, so let’s explore this further.

Don’t take it personally.

Even when people’s lives are threatened through smoking, excessive drinking, poor eating habits etc., many people are unable to change their destructive habits.

Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to make positive changes in your life? Well, here is the answer. It all has to do with ingrained habits and conditioning.

Neuroscience has found that the part of the brain that deals with habits requires little energy. When something is a habit or routine it doesn’t require much attention because it is familiar. You know what to do and it happens automatically; you don’t have to contemplate, consider or reflect on it. Contemplation, consideration, and reflection take more brainpower, effort and energy.

No matter how much damage they are doing, your habits are so familiar and comfortable that you often don’t even think about them. Lighting up that cigarette or putting that food in your mouth comes naturally to you; it feels natural, normal and therefore ‘comfortable’.

This automatic response frees up the conscious or thinking part of the brain to deal with more complex tasks, such as processing new information. This part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex or the executive part of the brain, is not as energy efficient and requires more fuel.

If I asked you to write your name on a piece of paper, you would not have to consciously think about it, it would be automatic. What if you were to write your name with your other hand? Would your writing be less automatic? Unless you are ambidextrous, the answer is probably yes. You would have to consciously think about how to do it. That is until you got used to it and it became a habit. But before this happens, it feels strange, uncomfortable and somehow wrong. It’s not what you are used to; and therefore it requires more focus, effort and brain fuel. This is also why people feel tired when they are developing new skills or doing something they haven’t really done before.

It takes the brain time to get used to a new situation, skill or behaviour. But most people revert back to what is comfortable and familiar long before this occurs.

But, something else happens and it’s essential to know this if you want to make important and lasting changes in your life.

Keep Reading to find out WHY your brain resists change…

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The brain resists change.

Not only is making changes hard work for the brain, it actually resists change. And it does this for a very good reason – and it’s not because it is trying to make things hard for you! Your brain’s primary and basic function is to keep you safe. In order to do this, your brain is designed to be on the lookout and detect when things are different, unusual or unfamiliar. Why? Because this could mean there is danger or a potential threat to your well-being.

Your brain has a very extensive reference library. It is filled with information that you have accumulated over your lifetime. Any incoming information will instantly be referenced and compared to what you already know. It will determine if what is happening is different from your experiences, expectations and assumptions. This mostly happens at a subconscious level.

When it detects a ‘mismatch’ and depending on the severity of the mismatch, it will activate a warning, an alarm in the brain that is just like an error code. Your brain will send a powerful and urgent message that there is something amiss. When the alarm is sounded the fear circuitry, the primitive or reptilian part of your brain, gets triggered and you become unsettled or worse, you become stressed and anxious. This is what is supposed to happen in your brain as without this you would not survive.

When an error message shows up in the reptilian part of your brain, the ‘animal’ instinct takes over and is ready to fight or run away. When this part of the brain, the amygdale, gets activated you tend to act based on impulse and it’s difficult to think logically. Your capacity for higher thought, such as contemplation, reflection and deliberation immediately decreases.

Are you getting the picture? Change leads to an ‘error message’ in your brain and you will feel alarmed. You feel unsafe and you want to retreat back to the safety of what is familiar, which is…you guessed it, whatever you are used to doing. In other words what you are ‘addicted to’ whether it is food, cigarettes, alcohol or any other habit or addiction you may have. So comparing information and alerting you to a mismatch is great for survival, but not so good when you want to make positive and lasting changes in your life.

Your brain tends to focus on the loss, not the gain.

Another reason why change is difficult is because of the way we tend to direct our thoughts. In other words what we focus on. While there are many exceptions, generally, your brain’s natural tendency is to be more concerned with the loss, rather than the gain. Most people follow this natural tendency. They focus on what they are giving up, rather than on what they are gaining. This makes it very hard to resist an impulse or an urge.

For example, people who are giving up smoking may look longingly at that cigarette. When the brain perceives a loss, it interprets this as giving up part of its security. You want to give up something that is familiar? Not if I have my way! I am here to protect you. You want to give up the familiar neural pathway and create a different one? No thanks, I’d rather we stick to well-trodden and familiar ones, says the brain.

Rather than being able to focus on the long term gain, you then satisfy or avoid the short term discomfort (pain) and you give in to instant gratification. This is why so many people fail to make changes in their life; to reach their goals and to achieve what they are truly capable of.

When you focus on the loss rather than the gain, it is hard for the brain to get excited and support you. Your brain needs a better reason to start making changes; by thinking it’s giving up something that is trusted and familiar, is not one of them!

So many people want to make positive changes so they can live a full and happy life…but, because they don’t understand how to deal with change, they can’t possibly achieve what they set out to.

If you want things to be different, then you need to understand the change process. Because if you don’t, it will continue to be the very thing that stands between you and where you want to be!

“I really like this video. I’ve recently been experiencing what I call mindful thinking, where I take a moment every so often and ask myself questions, much like you’ve shared in this article. The power of thought cycles is such an unseen force that dictates so much of our lives that until we address it with questions, and make the choice to shift that thinking or keep it, we will continue in those same thought cycles and experience bewilderment at times as to why things are the way they are. Today and every day I’m CHOOSING to plug into the top outlet 🙂
Great stuff! Keep sharing! :)” – Gary

Quick Tip

I love what Sharon said about if you focus on loss rather than gain – it is hard for the brain to support you…

Take a look at this now – what are some areas of your life where you continually focus on loss rather than gain? The awareness of this will begin the shift within you and then add on top of that your mindfulness and willingness to look for and seek out gain (even small gain) as the place you will put your attention and focus will cause an enormous shift within you that results in great happiness AND greater external manifestations as well.

9 Responses to “Issue 170 – Why Change is So Hard”

  1. Njuk says:

    Hello Good Day,

    First of all, let me Thank Allah The Almighty for everything in short and a very Special Thank to You (Kristen) for your endless tireless supportive throughout the year. I am very, very grateful for our friendship on my Journey. Am really moved often with your valuable articles which am really benefitting today.

    Again, Thanks to You sooooooooooo very much from the depths of my heart.

    Also seize this day to wish you Merry Christmas and Very Happy New Year in advance.

  2. pankaj das says:

    Its been great reading this article and really as said above we do always think about our losses rather than gain it is a wonderfull feeling of awareness thanks with warm regards

  3. Len says:

    Thank you Kristen for all your newsletters. There have been a number of times the last few years that you have a newsletter that hits home as to what I am trying to become conscious of. They have been one of those (“A HA” moments). These are usually the discovery moments that give so much to what I want to discover about myself and bring about positive changes. In your own words and from the soul …. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…!”

  4. Virginia says:

    It is so true that we often focus on what we are giving up – even when we know it will be to our benefit. It’s not that easy to hold on to the positive thoughts when going through a change. But…it is necessary. The active brain needs to be governed by the subconscious so take time to do so re-programming when creating something new and different in your habits.

    • Kristen says:

      Hi Virginia!

      Here’s a fun flip around to try (you know how I love the ‘what if’ game) – What if it was easy to hold onto positive thoughts when going through a change? Just play with that and you will experience some cool things!

  5. Doreen says:

    wow! Here’s a thought…….lose the HABIT and don’t lose the money in spending it. More money in the pocket. hey, i like that. Now let’s see if I can get rid of my habit. Brain, don’t fight me on this one. Thank you for your article

    • Kristen says:

      Hi Doreen! If you think about TRANSFORMING one habit into a, new more positive one that helps! Getting rid of habits doesn’t work, but transforming them does. 🙂

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