WHY Change is Hard (Fact: You Are Hardwired to Struggle)

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Written By

Rhea Dali

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

 

Change.

 

Why is change so darn tough?

 

  • You want one thing, but do the complete opposite.

 

  • You think about wanting to change, but then struggle to actually bring action to your intentions.

 

  • Or, perhaps you do make a change, but quickly find yourself losing steam—three days in, you’re back to your ‘old ways.’

 

Whatever the case may be, the conflict with making change is a human condition that is not just confined to you.

 

It’s the reason why:

 

  • You vow to eat healthier today…only to find yourself indulging in pizza by 8 p.m. that night, or eating those cookies, or snacking on your ritual wine and popcorn—again—by the end of the day;

 

  • You Google search tips on (losing weight, gaining muscle, getting in shape, stressing less, etc.), only to read them, say ‘Uh huh, great’, and go right back to doing what you do;

 

  • You start off your Monday, committed to _____ (getting 8 hours of sleep, keeping a planner, refraining from blowing your budget on daily coffee runs or lunches out)…only to have Friday roll around and you tell yourself, ‘Ok, next week…’

 

  • You say you need to find time to _____(meal prep, exercise, pack your lunch the night before, stretch more, etc.) but you some how find a way to procrastinate

 

  • You think about ‘getting over it’, or ‘making a change’, or doing something differently today…then promise yourself it will happen tomorrow

 

Try as you might…it just doesn’t happen.

 

The inability to change is perhaps one of the top frustrations coaches, trainers, healthcare professionals, and service providers face when working 1:1 with clients.

 

 

 

Why don’t they just do what they say they want to do?

 

The coach, or other individual trying to help you improve your life, gives you simple instructions for achieving X-Y-Z—what’s best for you—and still, it’s like pulling teeth to actually follow through.

 

Take classic health advice for instance.

 

You’ve heard it all before. “For optimal health:

 

 

  • Sleep 7-9 hours per night
  • Don’t eat too much sugar
  • Cut the sodas and artificial sweeteners
  • Eat real food
  • Exercise or move your body 5-6 days per week
  • Quit the chronic cardio
  • Eat more healthy fats
  • Cook the majority of your food at home
  • Drink more water
  • Take your vitamins or supplements for any of your nutrient deficiencies
  • Refrain from eating packaged and processed foods

 

Sooooo basic!

 

However, who here struggles with following at least one of these? (My hand is raised here people…that sleep thing gets me every time!)

 

Yup. It’s not just you.

 

A study of the health habits of cancer, heart and diabetic patients found that: “When prescribed life-saving medications for cancer, heart disease and diabetes, patients take them a shockingly low 55% of the time” (WHO 2003).

In other words, these people struggle to simply follow the instructions there were given to address their health conditions (much less adhere to a healthy diet and exercise program).

 

What gives?

 

This concept of change—and our struggle to do so—has had me digging deeper into the whys behind the struggle.

 

And what I’ve found?

 

The process of change is MORE than a ‘mind over matter’ ordeal—and we can have our ancestors to thank for that!

Primally Wired.

The Harvard Business Review ran an article several years ago titled “How Hardwired is Human Behavior?” In it, the author points out

 

 

Homo sapiens emerged on the Savannah Plain some 200,000 years ago, yet according to psychology, people today still seek those traits that made survival possible back then: an instinct to fight furiously when threatened, for instance, and a drive to trade information and share secrets. In other words, human beings are, hardwired. You can take the person out of the Stone Age, evolutionary psychologists contend, but you can’t take the Stone Age out of the person.”

 

According to this fact, whether we are aware of it or not, most of the time, our more primal brain patterns are in charge of our decisions (Ogden, Minton & Pain 2006), instead of our “smart” human brains (i.e. our ‘mind over matter’ brains).

 

And since our more primal (Stone Age) mindsets are, first and foremost, concerned and dedicated to survival (feeling comfortable, thriving in life), change is an uphill climb!

 

Our hardwired brain is concerned with: feeding us, keeping us happy, keeping us safe and making us feel as good as possible; those things feel way better than trying: a new way of eating, committing to a fitness routine, thinking about drinking more water, restructuring our sleep and wake schedules, etc.

 

In another article, ‘The Compliance Solution’, by John Berardi, the author notes: “If you think about it, why would [anyone] ever [do things like] eat less, or go to a gym with bright lights, loud music and unfamiliar equipment, in order to expend excess energy? To the primal brain, these things are a threat.”

 

Adding, “In the context of a wellness program, that means bailing on a gym membership, ‘flaking out’ on a meal plan, being lazy or ‘forgetting’ to plan a healthy dinner (Ogden, Minton & Pain 2006). Purposely enduring restriction, social awkwardness or discomfort goes against everything our brains evolved to do. So trying to persuade [you] to do this is like trying to run new software on a very old computer.

 

You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to get all of this. Just remember three things:

  1. In neurological terms, we’re wired for safety, comfort, energy conservation and survival.
  2. For most people, working out and changing eating habits contradict those primal goals.
  3. When humans perceive a threat (real or imagined), their defense mechanisms kick in. When that happens, you won’t get anywhere, especially if you push harder.”

 

 

Hmm…the struggle to change all makes so much more sense.

 

So knowing this now…knowing how our minds are wired what can we do to actually counteract this innate way of thinking (and self-sabatoging ourselves) when the desire to change comes around?

 

Spin (Habit) Change into a Positive Light.

“Humans who survived the harsh elements of the Stone Age undoubtedly tried to avoid loss. After all, when you are living on the edge, to lose even a little would mean that your very existence was in jeopardy… Thus, we are hardwired to avoid loss when comfortable but to scramble madly when threatened.” (Nicholson, 1998).

 

Changing a habit or trying a new program can feel like a LOSS of your old ways—your NATURAL INSTINCTS are going to want to fight for comfort (old ways). To counter this, perhaps re-framing your mind to see or view your ‘old ways’ as the real threat.

 

Remind yourself why you are changing your habits by making a pros/cons list of your new program versus your old comfortable ways. Or, instead of viewing your training program, exercise/nutrition prescriptions and habit changes as “challenging”, “sucky” or “difficult”, reframe the situation to see what you are ADDING to your life—not taking away or burdening it.

 

Embody Confidence.

You CAN do this. Speak in the affirmative continually. Instead of getting down (“I’m never going to get there!) or hesitantly doubting yourself (to sleep more, make change, follow through, etc.), see yourself having achieved the goals you have in your program. In the uncertain conditions of the Stone Age, those who survived, hands down, were those who believed they would survive. We cannot control the world around us, but we can control ourselves.

Adapt.

Grok was forced to adapt to whatever weather, terrain or predator was at hand. And you will learn to adapt and thrive if you have no other options. That is why, in order to truly break a habit, abstinence (i.e. giving up cigarettes cold turkey, breaking up with sugar for 21 days, not allowing nutbutter in the house if you can’t control yourself, ditching the soda or alcohol, doing something completely different in the gym than what you did before) is often times the ‘way to go’ to experience full-on results. Try it.

 

Strength in Numbers.

Like the primates that came before us, human beings were never meant to go it alone. Our ancestors thrived in clans. No one succeeds alone, so it’s important to find your “support circle.” Connect with your “tribe”—especially a coach, mentor or supporter for your ‘change process’.

 

That is specifically what THRIVE Wellness & Recovery is all about. I partner with clients through my THRIVE Life Program to construct a blueprint specifically aligned with helping you reach your goals, changing negative habits into positive ones and, ultimately, empowering you to thrive in your own life.

 

This is accomplished through a process I call “Lifestyling”, or Lifestyle ReDesign, integrating one or all of the following in your plan of care:

 

  • Holistic nutrition (not just a meal plan or MyFitnessPal logging, but a protocol targeted at your health);
  • Regular counseling and coaching sessions;
  • And smart (FUN) fitness programming to help your body thrive and come alive–or a combination of all three.

 

THRIVE works with a variety of individuals, from all walks of life, who are wanting to elevate their lives and health including:

 

  • Diabetes/Pre-diabetes (lifestyle and nutrition management)
  • Eating disorders, disordered eating, orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating and living)
  • Weight management
  • Stroke rehabilitation
  • Figuring out pregnancy/post pregnancy healthy lifestyle habits
  • Sports/athletic performance
  • Kids’ health and nutrition
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Digestion and gut health
  • Teen and college girls navigating life, the ‘real world’ and thriving in their own lives
  • Individuals simply wanting to lead healthier lifestyle, improve their lab results at their doctor’s office, or get to the bottom of their poor health

Find out more today with a free consult. If anything, let’s just chat. I want to get to know you and help you figure out the best method for “changing” or getting to where you want to be.

 

 

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