Change ~ verb ~ make or become different.
Change ~ noun ~ the act or instance of making or becoming different.
Welcome to Day 1 of The Change Challenge. Today is all about acknowledging that change is HARD! That is worth repeating. Change is really hard. If you have ever tried to make a change such as starting an exercise program, quitting a bad habit or trying to accept a change in a relationship, as in the relationship is over, you know how very hard change can be. For some of us, me especially, I use to deny that change was hard.
I would force myself to put on my positive hat and trudge forward. But I was doing myself a disservice. I was not offering myself the grace of slowing down to mindfully process and explore the change at hand. Without processing we stuff things inside and stuffing is a perfect formula for a full blown explosion when we are backed into a corner by our well known fremeny: STRESS. Bottom line here: acknowledgment that change is hard is a must do.
So why is change so hard anyway? Author Mecham uses neuroscience to explain why change is hard. She describes how much of our brain is still operating as it did back in the primitive days when it came to survival. Now-a-days we have so much more going on; traffic jams, employment uncertainty, crazy deadlines, and we are faced with daily stressors that our body responds to with survival instincts of flight or fight just like in the cave man days. You can read more of her fascinating article here.
The brain also responds to every change as a potential treat to help us with that survival instinct. Human beings have been hardwired to respond negatively to any change, at least until we receive more information (Mecham, 2013). Change is a huge stressor to us and our brain pretty much sums up any change as a threat to our survival.
So now you know why it is important to honor the hard work it takes to make a change.
Step 2 is all about awareness around how the brain works with habits and change. Anytime we do the same thing over and over again such as brushing our teeth before we leave the house, drinking coffee at 2 pm when we feel tired or yelling every time our kid doesn’t listen we increase the dendrites in size and efficiency in the brain when something is repeated over and over again (Burdick, 2013).
Neurons that fire together wire together. Each time we do something over and over again, like the teeth brushing, we create a habit pathway of a bunch of neurons together in the brain. However, when we want to create a new change or habit we literally have to rewire the brain and get new neurons to talk to each other. That is why it can be so hard. But once we do the hard work of rewiring the brain (say taking a power walk at 2 pm instead of pouring that coffee) we are creating new pathways in the brain that then become our new habits.
Let’s get excited about this because creating change and healthy new habits is totally possible. You just need to stick with the new routine until your brain has created the new habit pathway and it becomes second nature like brushing your teeth.
However, we need support in sticking with these new habits. So, step 3 is creating a support team. We know that change is hard so let’s make it a little easier by surrounding ourselves with supportive people. Pull out your inner cheerleader and enlist a trusted friend or coach to keep you accountable. Schreiber states anything that moves an individual towards making a positive change can be viewed as a success, whether this is on a small or large scale. Encouragement and support is what we need — even and especially if we fall back into old habits (2016).
Get support, celebrate every small step towards your desired change and go easy on yourself if you have a setback. Each day is a new day to make a change and stick with it.
Tomorrow for our Change Challenge we will discuss strategies to start “tricking” the brain into seeing change as positive!
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Burdick, D. (2013). Mindfulness Skills Workbook for Clinicians & Clients.
Meacham, M. (2013). Make change with Neuroscience. Retrieved from: https://www.td.org/insights/your-brain-on-change-helping-clients-manage-change-with-neuroscience
Schreiber, K. (2016). Why Is Change So Hard? Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truth-about-exercise-addiction/201608/why-is-change-so-hard