Change is Hard
Most people are not big fans of change. We often consider those who do not make efforts to change their lives unmotivated or lazy. In reality we often do not consider that change takes effort, our brains like to do things involuntarily and based on previous patterns. When we try to make changes increased brain power is required thus uses more energy. Additionally, in some scenarios the need to change can make us feel like we are doing something wrong, that our way is not good enough or no longer needed.
We also believe that our brains are wired towards the positive, that a positive mindset is norm. Dr. Alison Ledgerwood, a social psychologist conducted researched that highlighted that our brains are actually wired toward the negative and it takes effort to be in a positive mindset. This makes sense if you think about it. The main function of a brain is to keep us safe, and/or find reward. The positives in life are not usually dangerous so our brains do not have to focus on them, the negatives however can be a threat and need attention.
So, if both change and positive mindsets take energy in our brains as they are voluntary activities versus involuntary activities, perhaps we need some kindness when making efforts to change our routines and habits in life. There are some helpful ways we can improve this process. The first is to make small changes at a time. When we make big changes all at once it may feel good for awhile, but the energy output will eventually catch up to us. And when we are tired, our brains will revert to the oldest involuntary patterns in efforts to ease the mental load. Thus, we will return to our previous or non-existent habits. When we make small changes at a time the change is easier for our brains to make involuntary and is therefore more sustainable.
Secondly, when changing habits attach the new one to something you already do. James Clear’s Atomic Habits book talked about this concept well. For example, if I want to do more squats, I can attach it to a previously habituated behaviour. I can do 10 squats before or during brushing my teeth. This way the brain links the two behaviours together and habit forming is easier. Similarly, entire tasks can seem overwhelming. If I want to get better at cleaning my house my brain will be overwhelmed if I think about cleaning every room thoroughly all at once. We can trick our brains though by thinking of one task at a time. I will not likely be overwhelmed if I think about putting the dishes on the counter into the dishwasher. Once in motion we like to stay in motion and one task often leads to more once we start.
I have previously written about the 5-minute rule and now is a good time to revisit it. When working on incorporating new skills in our lives the hardest part is starting. If I want to incorporate more walking into my life, I can tell myself I only have to go for five minutes. If I am not enjoying it, I can turn around and go back, knowing five minutes is better than no minutes. More often than not though once I start, I am likely to keep going.
Finally replace the critical voice with compassion. Beating yourself up about not making a change is only going to keep you down. Consider the kindness you would offer others in making a change and offer it to yourself.
The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.