We regularly set brilliant intentions for living a healthy life: being fit and active, eating well, having a calm mind, being kind to those around, and feeling happy and energetic every day. As the day goes on, it begins to feel like an unachievable feat. At that point, old routines and thought patterns take over good intentions.
We know all too well what we’ve always done isn’t going to serve us in the long run. Why is it so difficult to make a change? And how do we push ourselves past this barrier called resistance, and arrive on the other side? Firstly let’s delve a little into the biology of change.
Biology of change
Two chemistry Nobel prize winners (2013) theorised that when we try to break an old habit, a biochemical process happens at a cellular level, which makes it challenging to break that habit.
Our cells constantly receive information and replicate themselves. When we make a positive change, we send feel-good hormones (dopamine and serotonin) to our cells. However, if our cells are used to receiving cortisol, they will continue to want more of cortisol!
When this cellular chemical change happens, we misinterpret it to be an emotional change. We start to think ‘this doesn’t feel good; I should stop’. In fact, this is the ‘vibration’ that happens at the cellular level, as our cells change their receptor sites to accept this new information.
The more feel-good hormones we feed our cells as we continue with the change, the more our cells start to accept and become hungry for those new hormones.
So what? Knowing this allows us to ease into change, as we now know what to expect. When we feel like giving up, stick with it! Understand that this is how our cells work, so we stick through this transition period to give our cells a chance to develop new receptors.
How people deal with resistance
Todd Hermann, a performance coach (founder of The Peak Athlete), observed two groups of people: ‘WOW’ brainers, and ‘OWW’ brainers. Both groups manage change differently.
When going through a process of change, ‘OWW’ brainers feel the vibration at the cellular level, and they start to tell themselves:
- ‘I’m not supposed to feel this way. This isn’t right for me.’
- ‘Why should I bother? I’ve always been like this.’
- ‘This doesn’t feel good! It’s painful!’
‘OWW’ brainers typically report feeling stuck, bored, and having a strong need to feel safe. In other words, they are stuck in their comfort zone!
When going through a process of change, ‘WOW’ brainers also face resistance, however they see the change process as more pleasurable:
- ‘I’m learning so much; I’m growing.’
- ‘Can’t wait to see what opportunities this brings.’
- ‘This is not easy, but I can see I’m getting better at it.’
‘WOW’ brainers typically associate change with growth, confidence, and adventure. It is needless to say that when it comes to change, ‘WOW’ brainers are much more adept than ‘OWW’ brainers.
Becoming a ‘WOW’ brainer, and introduce positive change in life
- Set clear and specific vision; make it tangible.Visualise the path, so there’s no uncertainty. For example, a tangible vision would be ‘for the next 2 weeks, I’m going to reduce TV time by 20 minutes every day, and use that time for a walk around the block.’
- Set trigger goals i.e. micro changes. For example, if being more active is your goal, then a trigger goal could be getting dressed in active wear. Another trigger goal could be to step outside the house with the intention of going for a jog. Build on small wins!
- Set improvement goals, creating a feedback loop and see results. For example, an improvement goal could be to increase the minutes you exercise from 20 to 30 minutes every day by 31 May 2018. Your feedback loop would be ticking off each additional minute. It gives you a surge of endorphin, and re-enforces the rewiring of your cell receptors.
- Script your setbacks! For example, if your goal is to avoid sugary foods, then a setback could be when someone offers you some chocolate cake. Script out: what you’d do, what you’d say, who you’d lean on for support.
- Gather a tribe around you. Your tribe can be a coach or a mentor. It can also be an online community who shares the same path as you.
- Plan out tomorrow, today. You may not know what tomorrow’s going to bring, take the delight of planning out your day based on what you know now. It will give you structure, and help you be proactive, as opposed to reacting to what the day throws at you.