Why is it so hard to change?

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Why is it so hard to change?Because you think your conscious mind is running the show.

Our brain is a complex and amazing organ. It has a built in survival mechanism, allows us to experience deep emotions, form social bonds and think, reason, analyze, and create.

The problem is we think the cognitive, rational, analytical part of our brain, the part we’re aware of, is in charge when in fact, it’s responsible for about 15% of our thoughts and actions. The other 85% is controlled by our subconscious – the part we aren’t aware of.

From the day we are born, our brains start building neural pathways. Because our brain values efficiency, when something is repeated, whether it be an action or a thought, these pathways become stronger and ingrained to the point we don’t even have to think about them anymore. That’s a good and bad thing.

It’s good for things like mastering a skill. Remember when you first learned how to drive and how awkward it was? If your experience was anything like mine, there was a lot of conscious effort as you tried to remember what you were suppose to do. Your actions were choppy, there was a lot of jerking when you turned, accelerated or braked. But after years of driving, our actions are smoother. I know how much room I need to ease into traffic. If a car cuts me off or swerves in front of me I react quickly. I don’t have to think “What should I do?” because I instinctively know what to do, I’ve done it thousands of times. I can predict what a lot of drivers will do around me before they even do it. I have my brain to thank for all of that.

Then there’s the down side. As we are growing up, we receive messages – from our family, friends, teachers and society in general. Some of these messages, if repeated enough, become internalized and we adopt as beliefs. Some work for us, some don’t.

My client, whom I’ll call Sarah, hired me because she wanted to start her own business. She had a viable idea and a good plan but couldn’t seem to make the leap. Instead, she kept taking dead end, low paying jobs she was overqualified for and hated. She was losing hope.

This wasn’t the first business she attempted to start. Any of her previous ideas could have worked but after the initial excitement of researching the business and coming up with a plan, she would hit an obstacle, procrastinate or just give up, believing she was too old or didn’t have the “right” credentials. It was a predictable pattern and she was frustrated. She yearned for something different but when she got to a certain point she always quit. It was a battle of wills – between her deeply conscious desire to have control over her own fate, to have the flexibility and variety that being her own boss would bring and choose exciting projects and work with people who inspired her – and her subconscious beliefs.

Her subconscious was winning. Sarah had a huge fear of rejection and as we explored the issue further, it turned out Sarah was constantly looking for someone to validate her worth. It was a driving force throughout her life, unbeknownst to her. Any rejection, off-hand remark, roll of the eyes or indifference, Sarah’s subconscious mind assumed were about her so it would rely on those deeply ingrained behaviors of the past and she’d retreat back to the safety of her comfort zone lest she be deemed unworthy.

Sarah believed her self-worth came from other people. It was outer-focused. She reflected back on her life and realized how this manifested in so many of her actions and interactions. She saw how it caused a lot of the conflicts she had with others and was the source of much of her unhappiness.

Sarah’s dream of owning her own business would (probably) never be realized until she could resolve the belief that she needed others to validate her worth. The biggest problem is we aren’t even aware of these subconscious thoughts so never bother to question them, even when they no longer serve us. We get caught up in a pattern of trying and then failing, creating an endless chain of disappointment.

So what can we do about it? I’ll address that in my next post.

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