A: First of all, we must understand that change hurts and that is why we all have a strong immunity to change. Powerful countervailing forces appear when we attempt to engineer positive change. We discover our competing commitments pull us in opposite directions causing us to spend a great deal of energy attempting to satisfy each: "I'm going to lose 20lbs but I really love to eat and drink." or “I am going to start a business of my own but I really like the security of the paycheck I get from my job today.”
Most people don't respect their strong immunity to change and, therefore, don't develop the rituals and support systems necessary to overcome this powerful equilibrium to stay the same. However, there is untapped energy to be found if we can become less embedded in this immune system that protects us from change. Understanding how our brain works helps us to recognize what we must do to make changes in our lives.
Our emotional brain trumps our analytical brain
Given the high-energy cost of running the prefrontal cortex or analytical brain, the control center of the brain prefers to run off its emotional brain that has much larger storage capacity and sips, not gulps, fuel in the form of glucose or blood sugar. This part of the brain stores the hardwired memories and habits that dominate our daily lives.
"Most of the time the basal ganglia (the emotional brain's limbic system) are more or less running the show," says Jeffrey M. Schwartz, research psychiatrist at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. "It controls habit-based behavior that we don't have to think about doing."
The way to get past the analytical brain's defenses is to come to our own resolution regarding the concepts causing our analytical brain to bristle. These moments of self-awareness or insight (in coaching, we call them epiphanies) appear to be as soothing to the analytical brain as the unfamiliar is threatening.
Once you have had that initial insight or epiphany that change is necessary, you need to repeat the experience in order to reinforce it and to experience the potential pleasure that can be derived from it. The complex brain connections that are formed during the epiphany phase need to be supported to begin the process of hard-wiring the emotional brain.
"The epiphany is the catalyst and stimulus, but it's not the whole deal," says Michael Wakefield, senior enterprise associate at the Center for Creative Leadership. "You have pathways in place, and they're simply too strong to be changed in a single moment. You need to be able to integrate it into your psychological behavior for it to become part of a new pattern."
"Learning is the antidote to change resistance," says Wakefield. "Learning lets you reframe the change from being something bad for you to something that can have value for you. You have to give people the sense that feeling uncomfortable is a normal part of change and address their concerns about losing face because of their lack of confidence and competence."
Self-directed learning helps you to discover an ideal vision of yourself and feel motivated in developing the abilities necessary to get you where you want to be. That is, you see the person you want to be---living with the capability necessary to create and sustain the new you. This personal makeover becomes the source of the energy required to work at the difficult and often frustrating process of change.
Now that you know where you want to be, the next step is to look in the mirror to discover where you really are today---how habits are making you act, how others view you and what comprises your deep assumptions and beliefs. Some of this reflection will represent gaps between where you are and where you want to be.
The realization of the gap prepares you for developing a plan of action needed for the detailed guidance on what new rituals to try each day to make the new habit sticky while you build your strengths and move closer to your ideal self.