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The Science of Change

(Becoming Your Best Self Series—Part 8)

Can you really change? The concept of change is a very tricky topic. You’re someone who wants to improve the way you feel, act and think. You’ve no doubt tried to make changes in your life before. Some of these changes have stuck and others haven’t. What determines what works and what doesn’t?

Some people believe people can’t change… that we have ingrained patterns that we’ll always be a certain way. Others believe that we can change and accomplish anything we want. Which camp do you fall in?

I’m hoping that you fall in the latter camp. You believe that you can change. At the same time, you know that it can be very difficult. You’re well aware of all the times you’ve tried and failed to change. Can it really happen for you this time?

It absolutely can, but it helps if you’re aware of the science behind change and what people who’ve successfully changed have done to make it happen. If you want to become your ideal person, you have to make some changes.

Starting out Strong

Most of us have had the experience of starting off being very motivated and excited about something. We start off with a bang and determine that this time it’s going to work! But we soon give up, deciding that it’s impossible and you’re doomed to be the same way forever.

I talked earlier about the New Year’s Resolution Syndrome. People get really excited about the possibilities but quickly give up because they haven’t truly committed themselves to making the change. That’s why you’re going to do things differently.

The Benefits You Get from Not Changing

Surprise! Part of you might not want to change at all. It’s very comfortable to stay exactly where you are, even if it’s not ideal. It can be very uncomfortable to make changes, both big and small. As humans, we’re programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. You may be getting some benefits from staying the way you are right now that make the pain of changing not worth it.

For instance, if you consider yourself to be a procrastinator, there’s some benefit you get from procrastinating. The benefit might be that you avoid the pain of getting to work and doing something that isn’t as fun as what you’re doing in the moment. It’s also reinforcing–if you believe it’s in your nature to procrastinate, you’re much more likely to do it.

There are many different habits that offer you some kind of benefit that makes it difficult to move away from them. On an intellectual level, you’re well aware that it would benefit you to get things done right away, to innovate, and to never put off for tomorrow what you can get done today.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just because we know it’s right and we know that it will help move us toward our goals doesn’t mean we’re ready to do it. It can really help for you to become aware of why you resist change in certain areas. What benefit are you getting by staying the same?

Sometimes, it can feel like we’re stuck in the movie Groundhog Day. You move forward, then backward, forward, then backward. You make resolutions and determine that things are going to be different, but they actually stay exactly the same. You start off really excited but it doesn’t last over time.

The fact is that you trick yourself into believing there’s only one way for you to be. You don’t truly believe you can change because you have had the same experiences and emotions surrounding you for such a long time.

You also trick your mind into believing the benefit you get from staying the same is larger than the benefit you’d get from changing. It feels good to do fun things in the moments. It’s comfortable to be in a position you’ve been in already. We’re resistant to change because it’s uncomfortable.

How the External Environment Affects Change

People talk a lot about changing your external environment to inspire change. There’s a lot of validity to that, but it’s not enough. Putting on workout clothes doesn’t necessarily translate into an unstoppable desire to exercise and eat right. Designing a brand new office doesn’t necessarily translate into a boost in productivity and profits.

It will actually help more at first than it will in the long term. It’s sort of like putting a band-aid on top of a splinter. It seems like it will help on the surface, but things aren’t really going to feel better until that internal splinter is removed. It’s just going to keep getting worse.

If you don’t make real changes internally, anything you do to change your external world doesn’t matter. Doing pretty, helpful, inspiring things on the outside can only work for so long until those splinter-like negative patterns in your life take over again.

Bad Beliefs You Have About Yourself

It’s next to impossible to change if you’re constantly listening to lies and bad beliefs about yourself. If you feel you’re worthless, lazy, lame, stupid, or troubled, then external changes aren’t going to mean much of anything at all.

It also comes down to responsibility. Do you feel like you’re in control? Do you focus on bad things that have happened to you in the past? Do you truly believe you have the power to change for good?

You won’t be able to change these things if you aren’t willing to work on the inside. You can buy all the self-help books you want and attend all the seminars you want-- the real change has to come from you. You have to feel strong, confident, and assured that you’re on the right path. You have to feel truly motivated to change.

Priming Yourself for Change

If you feel delicate or unbalanced internally, it’s going to be hard to change. That’s why you should work hard on yourself to make it happen. This is what has to happen before you do anything else.

First, make an effort to be aware of what’s going on in your mind. Do you constantly feel anxious, unsure, down, angry, guilty, or sad? If so, then your mind state is weak right now. This all stems from your need to punish yourself for what you think you’ve done wrong. It also stems from poor patterns that have built up over time.

It’s those patterns that prevent you from making changes. It’s time to make a conscious effort to develop new patterns and ways of thinking. You need to allow yourself to relax. This is at the root of just about everything. If you can’t relax and be in the present moment, you can’t hope to feel at peace with yourself so you can change.

It’s time to end the cycle. It’s not okay for you to constantly kick yourself for mistakes you’ve made in the past. It’s not okay for you to constantly dread the future, imagining horrible scenarios and convincing yourself that nothing you do can possibly work.

You’ve heard this before, but it’s time to focus on the positive. You’re going to feel anxious if you hang around negative people. You’re going to feel anxious if you’re on negative sites and chatting with negative people online or off. You’re going to feel anxious if your natural inclination is to blame yourself and dislike yourself at every turn.

If you make a conscious effort to turn toward the positive, things will change big time for you. Focus on successful, positive people who seem to infect you with their positivity. Avoid negative sites, news, and chat. Release negative thoughts as they enter your mind— especially negative thoughts about yourself.

It’s a terrible habit to think bad thoughts all the time. It doesn’t serve any purpose at all. Train your brain to think positively instead and you’ll change your patterns. Your brain will actually change shape, creating a ready path to positivity, productivity, and happiness instead of one of doom and gloom.

Why It’s Hard to Change Your Doom and Gloom Attitude

You probably agree that if you could have a more positive attitude, it would be easier to become your ideal self, right? It’s easy enough to tell you to do that but it’s another thing altogether to actually do it. Humans are, unfortunately, tuned to look out for danger— it’s something we had to do from an evolutionary standpoint. If we’re always looking out for the bad, though, it’s awfully hard to pay attention to the good.

That’s why you need to train yourself to do it. You have to make an active effort to be in the present moment and to look for the good and dismiss the bad. How do you do it? It’s all about rest, relaxation, awareness, and mindfulness.

Rest and meditation is a fantastic way to take advantage of your body’s state of peace. When you allow your body and mind to rest, you can train your brain to feel that way across all circumstances. You stop looking out for all the things that could go wrong. You learn to love and appreciate the positive feelings that come along with this resting state.

It’s next to impossible to change your thought patterns if you don’t allow yourself time to rest and become aware of your thoughts. If you’re always on the go, you won’t have time to retrain your brain. You’ll fall prey to the natural state of looking out for danger and always being wary.

If you avoid rest and relaxation, you won’t have a chance to realize what’s good about you. You won’t have the time to realize who you are and what you truly want to do. You can’t become your ideal self, or even understand what that means, if you don’t give yourself time to reflect.

It’s amazing how busy and “plugged in” so many of us are in today’s society— I’ve fallen prey to it as well. We have access to our work at all times, especially if we work from home for ourselves. We always feel “on” and like we should be able to tackle anything. But the fact is that we can’t be our best selves if we don’t give ourselves time to reflect, grow, and find peace.

A huge part of being able to change is being internally resilient, confident, and strong. If you’re always going, always working, and never stopping, it’s impossible to achieve that. You don’t give yourself time to build up the skills you need to change your patterns. You have to know how to translate the sense of peace you feel when you’re resting into your work life.

That’s not a bad prescription, is it? I’m telling you to rest and reflect more. I’m telling you to take time for R&R. It’s not about goofing off and procrastinating on important things. It’s about taking time every day to be mindful and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Dismiss negative thoughts and encourage positive thoughts. That’s the start of lasting change.

On a science level, the areas of your brain that are used more get more blood flow. Those areas become active and stronger. So you should pay attention to positive, important thoughts, skills, and talents you want to nurture. Being more mindful, restful, and meditating helps shape your brain in a way that allows you to control your body, feelings, and attention in a positive way.

If you’re constantly focusing on your worries and doubts, that will become your default. If you focus on good things instead, that will become your default. Focus on developing your inner strength and peacefulness and I know you’ll be happier and find it easier to change as a result. Being mindful will help you become a healthier, happier person overall.

In the next edition, we will explore "How to Focus Your Attention and Awareness"

Until then, many blessings and much peace!

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