(Dr. Kevin Fleming)
Change is good, according to the old adage, but we all know how difficult it can be to adjust to change or to inspire new behaviors and break habits. If change is good, then, why is it often so difficult to bring about?
The answer lies in a combination of nature and nurture. The human brain is wired to resist change, to a point; only deeper thinking and focus can inspire true change, requiring concentration from the part of the brain that involves the most effort.
In turn, nurture plays a part in making change difficult to accept; our experiences throughout life make us more likely to seek out familiarity and repeat past behaviors and patterns – change can make us feel uncomfortable. Let’s take a look at the neuroscience behind the nature and nurture elements of change and explore the solution to making change easier to accept.
Research suggests that the way the human brain is designed may make us predisposed to resisting change. The parts of the brain relating to instinct, emotions, memory and habits require less energy to use than the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making, behavior moderation and complex thinking.
Humans naturally use the reflexive areas of the brain more often than the reflective prefrontal cortex in day-to-day life – the prefrontal cortex, however, is the part of the brain used when we process change and new ideas.
Repeating behavior and patterns reinforces neural connections in the reflective areas of the brain, building habits and routines, and challenging what we have learnt in the past can be difficult for us to process, making us feel uncomfortable or even pained.
When we detect discrepancies between what we expect to happen and what actually occurs, the brain reacts by appealing to its most primal elements with a fight or flight response, which, in turn can make change unappealing.
As humans, we are taught routine from an early age, and repeating behaviors can help bring about good habits, such as keeping clean, holding down a job and other positive lifestyle elements. Familiarity makes us feel content, but when routines or habits are interrupted, we can feel threatened.
Not only can change inspire fight or flight reactions, or require more brain power to process than our usual habits, it can also be more difficult to adjust to in suboptimal circumstances, such as when we feel tired or under pressure; these conditions can increase the desire to retreat back into the familiar and pick up old habits and behaviors.
Fear plays a key part in resisting change; some of us are wary of losing control, while others react to uncertainty with trepidation, which can manifest physically and emotionally, causing anxiety and other negative effects.
How the change progresses and how we react to it can affect how we cope; if we feel rewarded, we will often repeat the behaviors until they become habitual, whereas if we feel threatened, we’re more likely to resist change.
Change is not inherently bad; since the beginning of time, change has been a constant in our world and in our lives, often garnering positive effects. Our bodies, environments and lives have changed over millennia to adapt to the needs of an evolving population.
While many changes are good and necessary, some changes are difficult to inspire. Putting an end to bad habits or destructive behavior can be tough, for example, and often willpower alone doesn’t cut it. Retraining the brain to achieve deeper awareness is key to bringing about lasting change.
Grey Matters International offers a unique service combining elements of neuroscience with psychology to help rewire the brain for change that is deep-rooted and long-lasting. Whether you’re trying to kick a negative habit, dealing with a relationship breakup or searching for coping techniques to deal with change at work, Grey Matters can help.
Dr. Kevin Fleming is Founder of a cutting edge neuroscience-infused executive/leadership development and behavior change consulting firm called Grey Matters International, Inc. (www.greymattersintl.com). Leveraging not just sharp-witted strategies to address irrationality, but also neurotechnology for radical shifts in decision making, Dr. Fleming achieves breakthroughs for his C-level clients that have far-reaching transformations from the Board room to their marriage/family life.
His thought leadership has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, New York Times and many top media outlets. He has been invited to speak to top leaders in the Middle East, as well as Cabinet Members for the King of Jordan, on neuroscience strategies for business transformation, and has received praise from faculty in both Harvard Medical and Business schools around his respected work.
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