“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude” -Oprah Winfrey.
I recently had to go to the ER because I was experiencing chest pains. It was a bit scary because this didn’t feel like an anxiety attack – it felt more like a heart attack. Within a nanosecond, my life flashed in front of me and I was taking stock of what wasn’t working. “Please God, help me,” I was thinking. And, I was vowing to do better(whatever better means), once “this” would be over. I had the same thoughts when I was sick with corona while I was home alone with a high fever.
What is it that makes us wait until it’s almost too late to consider making changes? Why do we continue to suffer until something is about to break? Do we actually change or is it just wishful thinking that gets us through the crisis?
Three Concepts That Make it Hard to Change
In my presentations about neuroscience and change, I talk about “loss aversion, responsiveness, and neuroplasticity,” three concepts that highlight why and how it is so hard for us to change.
The concept of loss aversion says we are twice as likely to hold on to what we have (even if it’s bad, or something better is available) than to let go and risk something new. We’re afraid we might get hurt, so rather than deal with irrational fear we rationalize why we can’t change. Our reptilian or survival brains are still very active and even the slightest threat can signal the danger of a huge lion. Over time we get used to living with fear, convinced this is normal and that we are unable to change.
Couple this with the idea that human beings are very slow to change. According to Professor Randy Flanagan, of the Center for Neuroscience Studies at Canada’s Queen’s University “humans are not particularly fast, and we’re not particularly strong, and we receive sensations about the world with considerable delay.” Said differently, we have a hard time responding.
The brain has a unique ability to adapt and change. If we look closely, we will quickly understand that the idea that it is impossible to change is not true when looking at neuroplasticity. As a matter of fact, the brain is malleable at all ages and rewiring is always an option.
The more we think negative thoughts the more likely we are to continue thinking negatively. The brain will use less energy and will be more efficient in keeping the status quo regardless of the impact the thought has on us. The brain likes to avoid change. It perceives change as a threat and that impacts our ‘executive functions’ in a negative way. Dr. Tara Swift, a neuroscientist, and psychiatrist, says that every time we have a negative thought a specific neural pathway is re-formed. The more negative pathways we accumulate, the more space is used and more negative thinking is present. When we replace negative thoughts with positive ones, we have an opportunity to drown them out and have our positive thoughts become dominant. Positive thoughts will change the way we feel and think about ourselves. This will lead to change in behaviors rooted in positive action.
Where does this leave us? Is it possible to change, or do we have to wait for a serious wake-up call to force a change? The older we get the harder it is for us to change and the more likely it is to repeat the same mistakes our brains are wired to make. Society does the same. There are a million reasons to remain stagnant ( unless it involves buying a new product) . BUT – and this is a big BUT – it doesn’t have to stay this way. And, it can’t stay this way because if we let it, we will get smaller and smaller. we will stop dreaming, we will lose our courage and creativeness and we will suffer even more.
My appeal to you is this: Join my “Change is Possible” club and start to promote change. You can decide right now that you are going to have a different attitude about change and that you are willing to do what it takes to embrace this journey – regardless of any challenges that lay ahead. Replace old beliefs that say it’s hard to change, with “change is possible. Let go of things that no longer work for you. Let go of negative people, or if you can’t let go, limit your interaction with them. Stop listening to songs that are disempowering. Speak up for change, learn how to use affirmations, and rewire negative beliefs that are holding you back. Surround yourself with people who embrace change. Most importantly, love yourself more and more each day.