Why is CHANGE so HARD??
You don’t have to look very far to see the messages of change all around us.
Magazine covers telling us how we can get slimmer, stronger, smarter and sexier. YouTube gurus telling us how to be more productive, wealthier, more influential.
Why are we so drawn to change? And if it’s so irresistible, why is it so damn hard?
First of all, we are drawn to change because we are wired to evolve; without change we would still be living in caves, dragging our knuckles and fighting off saber tooth tigers.
Why then, if we are ‘supposed to’ change, is it so hard when we try to do so? We can turn to our ancestors for this answer as well. As much as we are wired to evolve, we are also wired to follow the known path, to make the choices that our brains recognize as safe.
Historically, our lives depended on us NOT making the same mistakes over and over again. It was very important, from a survival perspective, to know that we must RUN when a saber tooth tiger was chasing us. Our lives depended upon us knowing NOT to eat that same strange looking berry that our buddy ate and died from the previous day. Our brains are wired to remind us of DANGER!
Unfortunately, our brains have not evolved enough to recognize the difference between true danger and the natural discomfort of change, which we routinely misinterpret as danger.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you are terrified of speaking in public. I’m talking TERRIFIED – puke worthy, sweaty palms, pee your pants kind of fear. Your brain reads this as danger on par with being chased by that saber tooth tiger, and so it tells you to RUN! Your brain literally does not know between the two scenarios, creating a reaction in your body that tells you “this is not safe”. To reinforce the message of “this is not safe”, your body throws in the feeling of wanting to vomit all over your new shoes, along with sweaty hands and feeling like your heart is going to explode out of your chest.
Mission accomplished: you are now thoroughly convinced that speaking in public is DANGEROUS! From a survival perspective, then, it makes total sense that you would avoid this activity, the same as you would avoid pissing off a saber tooth tiger.
So naturally, when you try to reason with yourself and say “no, I am not in danger, I can speak in public”, your brain and your body screams “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”
This is where the fancy term “neuroplasticity” comes in. Let’s skip the scientific description and breaking it down like this:
Let’s compare your thoughts to you walking in the woods. You are your thoughts, and the path in the woods is your brain. When you are walking, you naturally look for the clearest and smoothest path, right? I know I do! That’s exactly what your thoughts do – they look for the clearest, smoothest thought pattern in your brain, which is the one you are used to thinking (for example “public speaking is terrifying!”).
Does this mean that you can’t walk through the tall grasses or cut through the thick bushes? No, of course you can. But it will be harder. It takes more effort to cut through a less trodden path than a well trodden one.
That is EXACTLY how it is with our brains and our thoughts. It’s EASIER to default to what we are used to (Public speaking is terrifying) instead of going on a path that is less familiar (Hey, I think I can try this public speaking thing and my brain may not actually explode!).
When we understand WHY we feel the way we do when faced with change, we can take concrete steps to making the changes we want in our lives. Change IS scary, some more than others, but it IS possible.
Download my infographic on Neuroplasticity and how we can help our brains interpret change without being terrified!
What thought patterns do you have that you assumed were “hard wired” but that you could change? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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