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Why Change is So Hard

In Blog, Coaching, Goals, Mental Toughness, Peak Performance, Personal Development, Self Help, Study Groups | on 07.26.17 | by | Comments ( 0 )

Change is the key to success. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. We can’t continue to be the same person—thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same feelings, and acting in the same old ways—and  expect our lives to change. We have to change, and therein lies the problem: Change is scary and uncomfortable. Every step of the way, the bully in our brain is tugging and pulling at us, holding us back and keeping us stuck. Why? Because our brains are wired to keep us stuck, so, if we want to create a new life, we have to rewire our brains – literally.

Today, I’d like to paint a picture (in VERY basic, simplistic terms) of what is happening in our brains and give you the knowledge you need to understand why change is so uncomfortable – both mentally AND physically. Once you understand what is happening and why you feel the way you do, you will be better equipped to fight back when logic tries to keep you stuck.

Our brains are a record of our pasts. Every time we learn something new, that knowledge or experience is stored in the brain. The basic working units of the brain are the neurons, specialized cells that transmit information to other nerve cells, muscles, and glands. For the sake of simplicity, think of a neuron like a spider with a central body and lots of legs extending outward (A). There are approximately 100 billion neurons, or brain cells, in the human brain, and we learn new things by making neural connections. Every memory we have is a connection of two neurons (B). As those neural connections join with other neural connections, they form a neural network, or an experience (C).

Anytime we learn something new, the wiring in our brains is changed as two or more neurons connect. However, if we do not reinforce that new knowledge, the neurons will disconnect and we will forget what we have learned. On the other hand, the more we reinforce the knowledge or experience, the stronger the neural connection becomes. There are chemicals in the brain that cement the connections into place. The more we focus on a memory or an experience, the more “cement” is placed on the connections within the neural network, and, over time, they become hardwired into the brain. They become a part of who we are.

Here is something to keep in mind: The more emotion we attach to an experience and the more intense the emotions become, the stronger the network becomes. The emotions are connected to the memory, so, every time we recall the experience, the same emotions flood through our body as if that experience were happening all over again. The more the emotions flow, the more we think about the experience, which leads to more emotions, more thoughts, and so on. The more we dwell on something or let it fester, the bigger and more real it becomes.

Remember when we were growing up we were told that we shouldn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, etc. because we would kill our brain cells and once they were gone, they were gone? Well, as it turns out that’s not the case. Research shows that we can definitely generate new brain cells throughout our lives. However, there is only a limited amount of “cement” available to hold the neural connections in place and we can’t make anymore. So, in order to wire a new belief into place, we have to steal the cement from the old belief system. We destroy the old as we build the new. In other words, in order to change a habit or belief, to change the programming that is ultimately determining our results and creating our future, we have to create new, stable neural networks. In order to create those new networks, we have to move the cement from the old established networks.

Essentially, there are two ways of changing your thoughts – Emotional Impact and Spaced Repetition of an idea. This is how we move the cement from one network to another – it’s just a matter of whether we’re moving dump truck loads (emotional impact) or teacups full (spaced repetition) at a time. This is not an overnight process. It takes time, patience, and persistence, but it will happen if you keep giving energy to what you want, instead of what you have been stuck with in the past. It is also critical to remember that just thinking about a grand new life will do virtually nothing to break up the old neural networks. You have to get your feelings and your emotions involved. Simply thinking about something is like putting an eyedropper full of cement on the connection, whereas strong emotional involvement is what moves cups, barrels, or even dump trucks full of cement. Changing the programming that has been with us for decades is not a simple matter, but it absolutely can be done.

But now, as if things weren’t difficult enough, there is literally a chemical addiction to certain feelings/emotions at the cellular level that we have to contend with. We have all of these neural networks in our brains that constitute our memories and our experiences and we now know that our emotions influence the strength of these connections. Stronger emotions mean more “cement,” which means stronger networks. Every time we have a thought, there is a biochemical reaction in the brain. We manufacture a chemical which flows through our body and causes us to feel a certain way. Every feeling we have is the result of a different chemical coursing through our bodies. When we keep thinking the same kinds of thoughts over and over again, we keep putting more and more of the same chemical into our system.

Over time, the body actually adapts on a cellular level. Every cell in our bodies changes its physical configuration so that it is better able to receive and utilize the chemical we keep sending it. Those chemicals also have a profound effect on our physical health, as we will discuss tomorrow.

Once the cells adapt, the body becomes addicted to these chemicals. There is a physical need for them. This is why a sudden decision to create a grand new life and the temporary excitement about a new idea does little to produce actual change in our lives. We can really focus on our dreams and think about how wonderful our new lives will be, but, because each chemical has a different morphology, the cells can’t actually process the chemicals created by these new thoughts. They won’t “fit” in the cells receptor sites.

It’s time for an example! Let’s assume our bully has been beating us up for decades and we have a very strong neural network in place for poverty, lack, and limitation (the triangles in the Figure). Our cells have, over time, adapted their receptor sites to easily accept the triangle chemicals created by these thoughts.

Now, let’s assume that we decide that it’s time for a change, and we, consequently, start thinking differently. We focus intently on our new dream and start getting really excited. All of a sudden, we start flooding our system with thoughts and feelings of prosperity, abundance, and possibility (the squares). It will feel good in the moment, but, on a cellular level, there is a problem. Those squares don’t fit in our cells’ receptor sites. Our cells are used to getting regular doses of triangle chemicals, and now they are not getting any. It’s very much as if a drug addict, who is used to getting his or her “fix” on a regular basis, suddenly quit cold turkey. There is withdrawal, discomfort, and anxiety. The body starts going through chemical withdrawal, so it sends a signal to the brain. It essentially sounds an alarm to trigger the brain to cause thoughts that will provide the much needed chemicals, the triangles.

That’s when our bully goes to work and starts whispering in our ear, Now is not the time, it’ll never work, this is crazy. Our bully will do anything it can do to get us to start thinking “triangle thoughts” again so that the body can get its chemical fix. Because we are conditioned to think triangle thoughts, it is all too easy for our bully’s banter to throw us right back into old patterns of thought, which feed the body’s addiction, which causes more reinforcing thoughts, which leads to more of the same old triangle feelings, and so on. It’s an endless cycle that makes it very difficult to create change in our lives.

Think about it: What happens when we start “going negative”? We tend to ramp up, right? We don’t have just one negative thought, but 5 or 10 or 50! One thought spins off into the next, and, before we know it, we are in a really foul mood.

Let’s imagine having an argument with our very best friend about something that was totally out of our control. What happens? In the moment, it is only natural to feel angry or hurt, but that’s not the end of it. As the day goes on, we keep replaying the event over and over in our mind. We try to fix things. We think of things we should have said. We mentally compose a text or an email that might present our side of the situation better. We get ourselves so ramped up that we feel even more upset after our replay than we did when the actual event took place. This causes us to replay the event yet again, and the emotional snowball just gets bigger and bigger as the hours, days, weeks go by. This is very damaging to the body because our subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. Every time we relive the negative event in our mind, it is just as real, subconsciously, as when it actually happened. We keep dumping those negative chemicals into our system over and over and over again. We become more and more addicted to those negative thoughts and feelings, and we wonder why our lives don’t get better because we’re thinking a few happy thoughts each day.

The bad news is that we can’t break an addiction by simply deciding to do so. As long as we keep thinking the same habitual thoughts, our bodies will become more and more addicted to the chemicals those thoughts produce. To make matters worse, even if we do succeed in eliminating the problem thoughts and feelings, we have to deal with the chemical withdrawal that will ensue. It’s no wonder people have such difficulty permanently changing their lives for the better.

The good news is that we can recondition the body to become addicted to positive thoughts and feelings in the same way we taught it to crave the negative. We can teach ourselves to think and feel differently, and our cells will, over time, adapt their receptor sites to more easily accommodate the chemicals associated with the new thoughts. At that point, when something negative happens, it will be hard to stay in a bad mood, because our bodies will be looking for their next dose of positivity! Isn’t that exciting?


If you liked this post (excerpted from our “Toxic Thoughts, Toxic People” event), you’re going to love our next Your Brave Mind Online Event: Off-Balance, On Purpose. We’re kicking off a brand new 10-day format on Monday, August 28th. We’re also offering a bundle of “Off Balance, One Purpose” with our foundation program, “Taming the Bully in Your Brain” (which starts on Monday, August 14th). Learn more at www.YourBraveMind.com.

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