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Why is change so difficult?

Change is difficult: Notwithstanding your willpower and best efforts, your neurons keep on toppling you into the same old rut. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Find out how to “reprogram” your brain so you can really turn the page – and never look back.

Change comes at a price and is often doomed to fail. In spite of your heartfelt efforts to become less emotional, less stressed, more efficient or a better communicator, you can’t make that change. In fact, you keep on repeating the same mistakes.  

Why? Is it a lack of willpower? No. It’s because you’re running up against powerful brain mechanisms, a legacy of our ancestral survival reflexes that are totally unsuited to today’s world – so says Gabija Toleikyte, a professor of neuroscience and behavioral coach.  

But you can arrest these survival reflexes. If you dive deeper into how your habits and reactions were originally formed, you can break the vicious cycle of repetition. Understanding the mechanisms will give you the keys to cancel their adverse effects.  

Change is taxing, there’s no doubt about it, and it’s a process that requires time, discipline and patience, but thanks to advances in neuroscience, it is possible. 

Based on

Why the fuck can’t I change 
by Gabija Toleikyte, (Thread, 2021). 

Mental block no. 1: Are you asking too much of yourself?  

There are three parts of your brain: the reptilian (which controls vegetative functions), the paleo-mammalian (responsible for emotions and automatic survival reflexes) and the human (the seat of rational thought and deliberate decision-making).  

You should avoid sudden change at all costs, as it’s counterproductive. Even when they’re harmful, your bad habits fulfill an essential physiological or psychological need – it might be survival, security, membership of a group, a search for purpose – that your paleo-mammalian brain isn’t prepared to easily let go. If you don’t replace the habit you want to eradicate with a positive “compensatory” habit, it will automatically trigger emotions that will sabotage your attempts to change. Here’s an example of what you can do: Swap your morning coffee (with two sugars) for an apple – but don’t give up pleasure entirely. Because if you do, you’ll only end up doubling your dose of caffeine (and sugar) at lunchtime. 

Manage the energy levels of your prefrontal cortex: It’s the seat of your higher cognitive functions and the engine of rational action, but it’s also the part of the brain that is the first to run dry. Hence the importance of embarking on change when it’s fresh, fit and healthy: in the morning, after a break, on vacation, etc.  

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Marianne Gerard
Published by Marianne Gerard
Marianne graduated from HEC in 1998 and is now a freelance journalist specializing in management and higher education. What really fires her up is the human dimension and she is c taking a psychology course at Rennes 2 University.