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Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Change

Change isn’t a switch you can flip. Too often we treat it like that. New Year’s resolutions are approached with the attitude that deciding to change and trying harder will, somehow, create the change that we want. It doesn’t happen and then we feel guilty for not changing (especially if we’re trying to use guilt as a motivator). It doesn’t work and we just end up feeling worse in the long run.

The reason is pretty simple. Our brains are creatures of habit. Once a habit is created, we don’t want to change. No, it’s more than that. Our brains have wired themselves into that habit, so it’s physically difficult for us to change. Change requires rewiring our brains. Every time you do something, your brain creates a neural pathway for that action (or thought process). The more steps and processes involved, the more complex and far-reaching the pathway will be. If you do something often enough and long enough, the neural pathway will be enormous and easy for your neural impulses to follow. If you’ve ever driven home without realizing it, this is because you are so accustomed to using that neural pathway that you don’t even need to be consciously aware of it.

So, changing a well-established habit is the process of re-mapping your mind. Think of what was required to put in Hoover Dam (or any major dam construction). In order to harness the power of the flowing Colorado River, the workers had to first divert it. They blasted holes through solid rock, taking months of work, just to divert the water around the main worksite. But as long as the waters were raging through the established channel, nothing could be done. The flow had to be completely diverted before the real change could happen.

The way to enact real, lasting change in your own life is the same. Think of what you’re doing, not as change, but as diverting the flow of a river. First you have to create a pathway for the river to follow. You have to carve out the neural tunnel for the water to follow through. Step by step you start into the new habit or activity. You’re chipping at rock, tunneling through, blazing a trail. It’s slow, steady, necessary work. But, once you break through, you have a new place for the water to flow.

The way to tunnel through rock is the same way you eat an elephant – one bite at a time. One bit, one moment, one action. Just do one thing at a time to work toward change. Don’t try to do it all at once. Don’t beat yourself up for failure. Just take one bite, one step toward change. 

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