Have you noticed how sometimes you can get a really strong impulse to change something BIG in your life that feels absolutely right?
Maybe you’re finally going to change your job, set up your own business or go back to uni to retrain. Or perhaps you’re hellbent on sticking to an exercise routine for longer than one month, to eat healthier, drink less or stop smoking. Whatever it is you’re changing, in that moment of making that decision, your intention feels crystal clear, doesn’t it? Rock solid in fact!
But fast forward a bit, perhaps a few weeks or so, and suddenly that clear vision has begun to fade. It’s gradual and insidious but one rainy morning you wake up and you don’t feel like going to the gym – at all.
And the thought of getting a job, having to perfect your CV or selling yourself to land that dream role seems too much like hard work. So you postpone it to the following week instead. By now doubts have crept in and you’re wondering if you’re really good enough, if you have got what it takes, if you can be bothered. And that clear intention, the reason that got you started on this journey in the first place, has become hazy and muddled.
Welcome to you subconscious mind’s skullduggery and shenanigans! That clear intention that you had, way back when, was the workings of your prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area responsible for change, solutions, wisdom, perspective, rational thought, executive function and innovation. Don’t you just love the PFC? Unfortunately, and this goes for most of us, we spend only a tiny proportion of our thinking time in this part of our mind.
This is a real shame as our lives would work so much better if we were able to be in the present and react to things based on reality of the here and now. So for example, when someone forgets to include us in a job email it may in fact NOT be proof that we are unworthy and uninteresting. Instead, the person who forgot may have had a sleepless night due to a sick child/menopause/row with spouse and simply made a mistake that wasn’t personal to YOU.
Sadly, our ingrained patterns of feeling lack, alienation, worry, stress or anxiety as a first port of call to life’s ups and downs, emanate from our ancient survival brain (you may know it as the fight, flight brain) who’s main function is, and always has been, to keep us alive. That’s it!
The amygdala, the radar that is active in our survival mind, will sniff out anything that could be interpreted as a threat. And threats are not always what we think they are. Not being invited to a work meeting (coffee morning/dinner party) can set us off into a downward spiral of feeling unpopular, insignificant and seen as a confirmation of how rubbish we really are.
It is sort of today’s version of our ancestors fearing being ostracised from their tribe – something that in their time would have meant certain death. But in today’s world, that sort of fear reaction is not appropriate for most situations. We can say that our survival brain is totally unsuitable for modern life. How often do we really get chased by polar bears or rival tribes?
The speed and impact of our survival mind kicking in is overpowering. If you think of the survival mind as a space rocket and the prefrontal cortex as a delivery bike you are not far off the truth. We get ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘hijacked’ by strong feelings of fear, anxiety or stress when faced with things that triggers us such as speaking in public, quitting sugar, or starting an exercise regime. Your mind really thinks you are about to die.
Any change tends to be uncomfortable and perceived as a threat by our primitive mind. Which is why change is so hard because our mind’s default setting is to rejected change and avoid it at all cost. If you let your survival mind rule, that is..
Because we have a choice. Did you know that? Yes, we can choose to keep this negative and limiting voice in check. It is just like teaching a child to brush their teeth each night. They may not want to, or feel like it, but eventually they get it because you ‘train’ them to expect that this is what happens every night, right? You don’t give in to your child because brushing teeth is very important and you, as a parent, don’t have a doubt in your mind that what you are doing is not the right thing.
Your mind works the same way. When you get an errant thought that tells you it would be nicer to sit at home in front of the telly instead of hitting that yoga class that you signed up to, you have the knowledge to stay firm. You understand where this thought is coming from – and that isn’t the same place that told you to stick to your new routine in the first place. You realise you’ve simply been hijacked by your survival brain who wants you to keep doing what you’ve always done because change is super UNCOMFORTABLE – and we don’t like being uncomfortable so our mind tells us to stop doing the new and stick to the old.
So the next time you are setting an intention, or deciding on a new path. Expect resistance but DON’T GIVE IN TO IT. Don’t believe your story, the emotions that tell you that you don’t feel like it. It’s a trap! Carry on with your intention regardless and know that for each time you are overriding the ‘I’m not in the mood’ feeling, no matter how much you want to give in to it, you are getting closer to your desired outcome. And the resistance will lessen as you keep persisting. Your brain will literally change.
Much love and keep doing you.