Why are habits so hard to change? Just what is it that always seems to come between us and our goals? Are we forever destined to be at odds with ourselves, or could there be a way to make quantum leaps in personal development with ease?
From the moment we come into this world, whether consciously or unconsciously, rituals and routines guide the vast majority of our lives. The time we wake up, the way we get dressed, the route we take to school/work and how we get ready for bed are just a few examples.
Although the initial choice to start a new activity or create a new ritual is a conscious one, over time it becomes an “autopilot” activity which we perform by default without thinking, and in many cases we may even encounter internal resistant or feel “off” when we don’t perform that activity.
For activities that are beneficial to us, like say brushing our teeth, this is a good thing. But for things when it comes to things like snacking… maybe not so much?
Why is it so hard to change? Well it appears that for us humans, having stability in our lives in the form of routines and learned behaviors, is a something of a hardwired survival mechanism.
There are many ways that our minds object to our attempts to change a routine or behavior, but the two that we are probably most familiar with are:
- The Wall of Boredom
- (Non) Performance Anxiety
The Wall of Boredom is what many people encounter when we want to do something like start an exercise routine or learn a foreign language: initially the new activity starts out being novel and exciting for us, but in a short while we lose that beginners’ high, and hit the wall of boredom. Without the positive sensation or excitement of novelty to keep us engaged, the vast majority give up, save for those with strong enough will to brute-force their way through this period of transition and eventually establish a new ritual.
Performance (or non-performance) anxiety is the internal resistance you feel when you are wither trying to start something new (workout program), or stop doing something that is an ingrained habit (dieting) Examples include trying to convince yourself that the traffic on the way to the gym is probably pretty bad so you’ll go tomorrow, or rationalizing that there’s no harm in another handful of potato chips.
Is there anything we can do to make changing habits easier? Well, employing willower to force ourselves to do (or not do) something is one method that is effective, but heavily taxing on us both physically and mentally. There has to be another way to do this, right? Guess what, there is!
Take a second and look at what a kid does when they are given the chance to try something new: kids experience a feeling of excitement at the prospect of doing something new. The look around with a sense of wonder as they absorb the world through all their senses. Everything is new and exciting, and this curiosity fuels learning and expands consciousness. The key is to harness this child-like sense of wonder, and deploy it when we are trying to make a change in our lives.
For example, when learning a foreign language, adopting the mindset of a child (i.e. not being concerned with the “logic” such as grammar patterns or verb conjugation charts) and simply absorbing with an open mind may seem counterintuitive, but is highly effective. This approach is not only a useful tool that helps us reduce the drag of internal resistance when trying new things, it adds an incredible new dimension to life making it more fun and exciting!