Beware of the watch dogs

So here you are: you have made your decision, you know all the steps of how you’re going to make it, you have an entire plan in your head and on a vision board, there we go, you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it now…and a while later (anytime between 10 minutes and few hours), we find you on your couch, eating junk food, all deflated, half depressed- at least that’s the way it looks from the outside.

Let’s have a closer look at what happened in the inside of this complicated machinery that you are. You spent hours building this plan, visualizing this new future, this new you, how good it will make you feel, how amazing this new life will be for you, you could almost touch it with your fingertip. You don’t know how it will happen yet but you can feel it, in your guts, in (almost) all your body, you just…know: it’s the right move, the right thing for you!

That’s usually the time your brain chooses to stand in front of you, all rolling eyes: “So, you want to “change” (he says using his fingers as air quotation marks)…great…Are we are not ok at the moment? Is what we have not good enough for you? Didn’t the work we have done together provide you with the safety and the security you needed so far? Do you want to end up miserable, homeless and alone? Is that what you want, huh?”. To which you answered: “You are right brain, I have been a bit foolish in the last few days, I’m sorry”. Back to the couch/TV/junk food scene.

This is weird, right? Cause all the parts involved in this conversation are the same human being, so we should have the same goal as a single identity. And still: we have all experienced this at a point in our lives. Why? Because the brain hates change, so much so that it will do everything it can to create some “noise” around you and distract you from your initial goal. And when I mean everything, I include mood swings, low level of energy, sudden focus on random things (did you ever wonder why they put a round pizza in a square box divided in triangles?) and, if you’re lucky enough to have a somatising tendency: physical symptoms like back pains, vomiting, pain that appears and disappears randomly, diarrhoea, all the fun stuff. Yes, your brain is a sadistic perv.

If you’re interested in neuroscience, you probably know that between 40 and 95% of our everyday life is habits, which means our brain doesn’t do too much effort to complete between 40 and 95% of our activities: stop your alarm, get up, brush your teeth, breakfast, get into your car, check, check, check, been there, done that, the brain is having a blast, easy peasy day forecasted. And all of the sudden you (yes, YOU monster of ingratitude) talk about changing this well oiled gearing for something new. Worse: something unknown! Imagine the millions of new information to process and the doubt coming from it: we would need to try new things, experiment, most likely fail and learn from it, repeat all over again. Your brain is having a panic attack just thinking about it (see the somatising section above).

So how to get out of this? Well, there are a couple of tricks to get past the watchdogs of the brain. As I was suggesting in a previous article, start with tiny steps: your brain will wrongly think they are innocent and, for the time it will realize it got scammed, bam! Too late. Secondly, don’t try to suppress or deny the deflating thoughts that cross your mind because, let me tell you: this one won’t shut up that easily. The more you’re going to ignore it, the more it will insist to be heard- a brainy version of a very annoying loud child you would ask to be a bit quieter…Acknowledge the thought that pass through you, accept it and respond to it mentally: “Yes brain, I understand your concerns and I know you do this to protect me, but I will do it anyway because I think it will make me happy”. I’m not joking, do it.

Finally, the ultimate trick is to trap the brain at his own game: if we consider the brain struggling to change as cons, we can also consider as pros the fact that it gets habits easily. You need to pass the first few experiences with the end in mind, keep thinking about how it will look like when you’ll master this new you, accept that what doesn’t look great now will become easier with practice and time. The more you will do, the more your brain will integrate it and, before you realize it, everything will require less energy and focus as it will become (guess what) a new habit.

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