Have you ever been filled with such intense determination to change something that you thought, “OK, this time I really mean it!”? You started out with some success only to be thwarted and end up quitting. It’s the lament of many of us. What is the deal? Why is it so hard to change? The answer: you’re fighting against solid wiring in your brain called neural pathways. We have the life-long ability to lay down new wiring in our brains but if the new wiring is contradictory to existing wiring, the existing wiring has the first right of refusal…and it doesn’t refuse to be first! That’s what you’re up against when you want to change a behavior, action or reaction.
In order to create any kind of change whether it’s a physical movement (think professional athletes) or a behavior, you have to start by laying down new wiring, new neural pathways, by doing the new action or choosing the new behavior. It’s not natural at all because it’s not something you typically do. As you continue to use the new behavior or movement, you get better and better at it but this takes a lot of repetition and a lot of time. The old pathway doesn’t go away so you will feel almost pulled to it time and time again. If you’re not aware of what you are doing, you will go back to the old way. Sometimes even being aware doesn’t stop us! The more you use the new path, the stronger it gets. The goal is to get the new pathway stronger than the old pathway so it takes over on the first right of refusal contract.
Keep this in mind as you seek to change. It’s incredibly hard! It takes a lot of time and intention. If it’s something you really want, you can do it but you will have to work at it every day. We tend to create change more permanently when we enlist the help of others. So, if you are serious about it enlist the help of a coach, counselor or mentor. Being in a group with others who are on this change journey can be incredibly helpful as well. Going it alone is almost always unsuccessful so set yourself up for success by doing all you can to create and strengthen a new neural pathway!
What I love about these words from Viktor Frankl is the clear communication that we have a choice. We can choose how we are going to respond or what we are going to think or how we are going to act. Now I know it sometimes doesn’t feel like we have a choice but that is an illusion. Unless you have a diagnosable brain malfunction that makes it literally impossible to choose, you can choose. Viktor Frankl survived being a prisoner at Nazi concentration camps in the 1940’s. I think he knows what he’s talking about. Think about your circumstances, how they seem so awful and you think you don’t have a choice about how you respond. Now think about being in a concentration camp where you literally have no visible choices. Dr. Frankl has communicated to us from real life experience that we always have the ability to choose how we will respond in any circumstance.
What is it that you are facing right now that you think you don’t have a choice? Is it true you don’t have a choice? Do you have to yell at your partner because you are so angry that she won’t listen to you? Do you have to believe you are not enough because that’s the message others have told you? Do you have to go on ruminating on everything you have to do because that’s what you’ve always done? The answer to all three and many more is, No! You get to choose. Right now you can choose to believe that you have value and worth. You do. Simply because you exist, you matter. You can choose a healthier way to communicate your frustration with your partner. You can stop those runaway-train-like thoughts. You really can. I know all of these for a fact because I have done each one.
It seems really hard at first to start choosing and not being a victim to the world around you. Don’t give up. Stay with it. If you find you need help, then reach out for it. You may need a counselor/therapist. Go for it! You have a choice there, too. 🙂
Categories: Boundaries, Emotional Healing, Forgiveness, Growth, Healing, Parent-wounds, Recovery, Relationships
Tags: ability to choose, anger management, anxiety, awareness, choice, fear, freedom, freedom from being a victim, neural pathways, relationships, victim, victim mentality, Viktor Frankl
A common theme I hear when working with clients is the seemingly insurmountable challenge of changing unwanted behavior. I know from personal experience how difficult this is. I do something I don’t want to do. I have looked at the underlying causes, I have identified strategies to implement change but when the opportunity to practice arises, I default to old patterns. It’s a frustrating learning experience but I also know first hand change is achievable. Continuing to practice the new skills is useful so stay in there. I have an idea on how to boost your learning curve. Exercise your brain.
Because change involves neural pathways in our brain, it seems that if we keep the intellectual part of our brain active, growing and pliable, perhaps it will be easier to create new neural pathways. I have a challenge for you. In addition to the work you are already doing to create change in your life, add some brain games.
Many such games exist. You can find them in book and electronic form. I use the Lumosity app to challenge myself nearly daily. As my memory, problem solving and attention skills are stretched, I’m noticing a significant increase in my ability to also solve emotional issues by implementing healthy skills. My experience is not unique and is supported by the research on developing resilience (see my previous post on this). Help yourself out, exercise your brain!