Why Is Change So Hard For Humans?

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It’s The Way Our Brains Work!

Estimated reading Time: 7 min
why is change so hard for humans

So, why is change so hard for humans when the only constant in life is that things will change?

Why do we often have such a tough time dealing with it?

Just to clarify…

… this article is about the development (creation and changing) of beliefs that lead to habits, as opposed to other types of memories.

Everything We Do And Achieve Is Controlled By Mindset

So what makes up our mindset? Our mindset reflects the sum total of our beliefs.

Although general memories and beliefs are all part of our biological structures, in effect beliefs are a specific type of memory.

My focus here is on practical aspects of changing our mindset, where appropriate, in order to help achieve the things we decide we want.

Brain science tells us why change can be so difficult. We have a built-in, pre-programmed, challenge.

Here is a high-level view…

In order to accept an external change, first, we have to accept it internally, in our minds.

That sounds obvious perhaps… but in reality, it can be a real challenge for most people.

So What’s The Challenge?

This discussion starts with our brain.

We aren’t often conscious of most of our brain activity as such. The majority of our brain provides essential support to our whole body. This includes areas of our brain that house our so-called subconscious (or as some call it, unconscious) mind.

This lack of general awareness isn’t in itself the problem but… I believe that through a better understanding of how our brain works and why it does what it does, the easier it is, when necessary, for us to accept appropriate change.

Commonly understood is that our brains contain our memories and also deliver many other useful functions. As ou already know, one useful set of functions is collectively referred to as our mind.

Our mind is conceptually split between a large part known as the subconscious, and the creative, thinking, and generally aware part known as the conscious mind.

Here’s the thing… a primary built-in instinct (of the brain) is to protect the status quo. I.E. a primary goal of the brain is self-preservation for survival.

So, the majority of the brain does everything it can to repel boarders. It does everything it can to protect itself (and thereby protects us) from anything it “decides” is an invader, both physical and mental or cognitive invaders, including from our own conscious thoughts.

Therein lies the challenge.

Generalising a little, our subconscious mind is extremely efficient, has access to our vast brain memory banks and its data processing capability is very fast, except perhaps for recalling some memories.

In contrast, our conscious minds can hold a relatively small amount of information at any one time (for most people perhaps between 3 and 7 items) and are relatively slow in operation but provide us with the abilities to think and make decisions.

The subconscious mind is also home to our mindset which, as already stated, is in effect the sum total of our values and beliefs. In this context, a value is a type of belief (which, also as already stated, is a type of memory). From here on I will just refer to beliefs or the mindset.

The things that we consciously choose to do, and habits of any kind, are controlled through our “filter” of beliefs (mindset) which effectively control our actions and reactions.

So, in practice, we can’t do anything without our subconscious mind being involved and controlling it.

Why Would We Want To Change A Belief?

When our beliefs (subconscious) are incongruent in some way with communications from our conscious mind (conscious thoughts), the subconscious beliefs often win through.

The subconscious mind doesn’t think as such, it doesn’t make cognitive decisions, it just does what it does by reaction; which might be thought of as instinct. It is, in effect, programmed through evolution and our experience.

The consequence of the subconscious filtering process is that our conscious mind can (perhaps often) find itself competing with subconsciously held beliefs that override the intention of conscious thoughts.

I.E. we are very capable of thinking something consciously that is contradicted by a subconscious belief.

This isn’t necessarily a question of good or bad, but more often a question of whether the result is useful or not.

The brain fulfils its functions amazingly well.

Some of its instincts and reactions (controlling vital organs, triggering movements, senses and emotions and the effect of our mindset etc) are lightning-fast. However, some aspects of memory seem to be buried deep and are difficult (take time) to recall.

So Can We Change Our Subconscious Beliefs?

Changing a belief (a part of our mindset) leads to changes in our actions and reactions.

As already implied, It is possible to deliberately change our beliefs of course.

A simple example that happens naturally for most of us is that when we were very young our parents installed a belief that Father Christmas exists and lives at the North Pole. At some later age, most of us realised this is not actually true. We stopped believing the story.

It might seem odd that those of us who are parents still persist with encouraging our own young children to believe in the modern concept of Father Christmas… the thing is that the idea provides something useful to our experience of life in the shape of positive experiences of excitement and fun.

In reality, over time, our memories can be altered unintentionally. They can become distorted through additions and deletions and influenced by our own imagination. Our memories, especially older ones, can’t be relied upon to be as accurate as we think they are. That sounds like a real weakness…

… however, it also means that we can deliberately change individual beliefs if we wish. We can adapt them as we do with the Father Christmas stories, delete them completely or add to them.

This takes us back to the challenge… the self-preservation instincts of our brain can take some convincing to accept what is in effect, reprogramming by our conscious thoughts.

Stating the obvious now; this is why changing our mindset, for example, is a challenge that can take some time.

Conscious Creativity And Willpower

Now moving on to the conscious, creative, thinking part of our mind.

Our conscious mind allows us to freely think whatever we want and to make our own decisions. It handles creativity and makes logical connections with distinction.

But, everything we think and decide runs through the gamut of our subconscious mindset.

In effect, our conscious mind directs our subconscious to do its bidding, although it can take considerable effort and time for our subconscious mind to take that direction on board for reasons already explained.

If our subconscious beliefs (which by default, are mostly consciously unknown) support our conscious communication we get the result we ask for, whether it’s useful or not.

On the other hand, if there’s an incongruence between our conscious thoughts and subconscious mindset (which often become voices in our head, perhaps visions and/or trigger feelings) we can either end up doing something not consciously intended, or we use conscious willpower to achieve what we want.

In addition, sometimes we discover differences between beliefs already held in our mindset which thereby trigger even more confusion.

In either case, being aware of the mind working as it is intended and being aware enough and skilled to deliberately make changes is very powerful.

Using Conscious Willpower

Conscious willpower can help us get what we want, although it’s usually uncomfortable. If we need to use willpower, it simplistically means that a conscious thought or want is contrary to something in our mindset.

The way I think of it is that, with willpower, we are testing out a conscious thought without instantly making a permanent change to our mindset.

Being aware of the way our conscious and subconscious minds work together allows us to consciously try things out before making a permanent change. I.E. we can use willpower to test the effect of conscious thoughts and then choose to make a permanent change to our mindset if appropriate.

The thing is though, that willpower gets turned off whenever our conscious mind sleeps.

For a permanent change to take effect, in addition to overcoming any not so useful subconscious beliefs, willpower has to be summoned up day after day, often many days (some say from 30 to 90 days), for the mindset to accept the change as part of its status quo.

The mistake most people make is to think that their willpower has made a permanent change after too few uses.

It is possible to trigger fast internal changes. Such changes are sometimes the result of either cognitive or physical trauma, or more usefully through the conscious use of hypnosis in one of its many forms.

Trauma and associated negative feelings are not recommended of course. On the other hand, positive feelings related to a change can enormously speed up the amount of time needed for the subconscious to accept it!

The Way Forward?

People tend to spend a great deal of time (and money) on looking after and developing much of their physical body, while paying very little, if any attention, to our brains and minds. This is despite the fact that our brain controls all the results we get.

Brain science can be complicated in detail but I encourage everyone to take their brains and minds seriously. We tend to ignore the brain and its functions until something goes wrong.

Understanding the basics of how our brain and mind works and how to look after them is extremely valuable towards changing ourselves appropriately and accepting externally triggered changes. Above all, towards achieving whatever we want.

There’s nothing “woo woo” about doing whatever we can to improve our mindset towards achieving our own needs and wants. Science has proven that many ancient and modern techniques add great value.

Here is a far from exhaustive shortlist, of areas to learn a little about:

Above all… become aware of the effect your mindset has on your outcomes and take action to make changes where appropriate.

Please join the discussion… tell us what you think and ask any questions…
Richard B

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