21 Dec How to Rewire Your Brain for Change
Thank you so much for reading my new blog post!
Let’s begin with something funny.
Officer: Soldier, do you have change for a dollar?”
Soldier: “Sure, buddy.”
Officer: “That’s no way to address an officer! Now let’s try it again!”
Officer: “Soldier. Do you have change for a dollar?”
Soldier: “No, SIR!
I want to talk to you about change. It’s a word that is on most people’s minds as we begin the New Year. We often ask ourselves “what do I need to change in the coming year?” Change is a scary word, isn’t it?
It seems like a difficult challenge to meet. Whether it’s adopting a new diet or deciding to begin a new fitness routine, change can be tough for most of us.
Speaking for myself, whenever my wife yells, “honey, you need to change,” I break out in hives. Half the time, I don’t even know what she is referring to and, second, I wonder how I can change something I’ve been doing for so long.
Fearing change is normal. Our brain is actually hardwired to resist it. You see, the normal everyday things we do — brushing our teeth, putting one leg in front of the other to walk, driving to work each day – don’t require much energy. All the habits and rituals that have been repeated for years are formed in an area of the brain called the Basal Ganglia (BG). You don’t have to think about those tasks because they become ingrained inside us. That allows us to free our brain for other things. We love the BG!
Now, when we ask our brain to adopt a new ritual like cutting sugars from our diet, changing our exercise routine or waking up earlier, an alarm button goes off. The Basal Ganglia’s response: “I’m sorry but before you end up here, you will have to go sign up at the front desk.” That welcome and sorting area is called the Prefrontal Cortex (PC), which is located in the front of the brain. This is where decisions are made. Should I workout or sleep in? Should I say no to dessert or indulge? Should I talk to the girl sitting at the bar or should I stay put and play it safe? And since these decisions can be stressful, the PC developed a close relationship with another beautiful appendage called the Amygdala. It’s responsible for our flight or fight mechanism – the one that makes us alert and nervous when we sense danger. So now you can see why change can be scary.
We like routine
It takes more effort to think about and actually do something new than react to pure instinct or habit. The brain is also wired to seek rewards and avoid pain. Change is painful and perceived as an enemy. Until you repeat the task and transform it into a habit, your brain will keep fighting you.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t change. Humans not only survive, but evolve because we constantly change, adapt and reinvent ourselves and our world.
Here are 3 tips on how you can make long-lasting changes and have your brain work for you instead of against you.
1-Believe that you will be better off.
Nothing starts easy, whether it’s leaving a stressful job, ending a bad relationship or revamping your
workouts. Change is unknown and different from our beloved “zone of familiarity.” If you are bored to death by following the same workout for the last 10 years, don’t be scared to change it. Chances are, it’s probably not yielding results anyway. It might take you a few tries to get it right so keep telling yourself that what you are doing now is better than what you were doing. It will become the fuel that will help you push through the scary process of leaving the fitness routine you’ve been doing since middle school.
Go ahead, read more fitness blogs, observe the way people workout at the gym and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes, all it takes is changing the order of your exercises and muscle groups in order to breathe new life into your workouts.
2- Make small changes
As if change was bad enough, trying to change everything all at once is a sure recipe for failure. Do you have 20 pounds to lose? Focus on the first five. Create the new rituals and behaviors you will need in order to lose those five pounds. And guess what? The same rituals that will help you lose the first five, will be the same for the next 10, 15 and 20. So if having ice cream every night is your issue, commit to giving it up once a week. An average scoop of ice cream has 14 grams of sugar. After giving it up 4 times, you’ve just saved 56 grams of sugar! Not bad for a small change.
Studies have shown you increase your chances of sticking with a change when you start it on vacation. Do you want to start waking up
earlier or quite smoking? Book yourself a vacation. Why does it work? Because the new environment creates an opportunity to form a new ritual without the triggers and rewards from back home. Now that’s a fun way to create new habits or change bad ones, right?
All about the reps…
Let’s make 2018 the year of the positive changes. What is it you want to improve on or change in the New Year? Write it down and start planning on the execution. Just like you get excited about wearing a new dress or suit, you should get pumped about filling your “closet” with positive, fun and exciting changes. And finally, embrace the power of the reps. The more you repeat a task, the better you become at it and the faster it will find it’s way into the Basal Ganglia.
Once there, you are golden.