Why do we resist change?
Why is repetition so compelling while at the same time it is so illogical? Why will an adult repeat behavior that doesn’t work, perhaps do it harder, and expect a different result? Changing behavior is difficult, even when it means the difference between life and death. In studies of coronary bypass patients, when their lives are at risk unless they adopt healthier lifestyles, only one in nine changes their habits.
Part of the answer to this question is in our minds.There is something secure and familiar about repetition. We repeat the same story because we know what the outcome will be. Predictability masquerades as effectiveness. The invisible decisions that we make daily become camouflaged as habits, our collection of repetitions. Change from a familiar pattern creates uncertainty, even anxiety. The easiest and fastest way to end this anxiety is to go back to the familiar: the old story. There is always the pull of the old and the fear of the new.
And part of the answer to why change is difficult is in our brains. Emotions change brain functioning. Anxiety or fear shifts someone into a survival mode that prevents fluid learning and understanding. The alarm signals of fear, anxiety, or anger shanghai the attention of the frontal lobes, causing them to forfeit their optimum functioning.
How can we facilitate change?
We are not hard-wired for life. We can foster change by conscious practices and effective tools. Neuroscience research indicates that focusing on problems deepens—further etches—the already existing brain circuitry. And when we concentrate our attention on new solutions, new neural connections are created. This concept offers explanation at a brain level for why a solution focus is more effective than a problem focus. First, it requires ownership of someone’s story, and then collaboration to understand, assess, and change the storylines that don’t work.
In my former practice of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, I began one of the first eating disorders treatment programs in this country. Since becoming a professional coach, I have learned even more about the art and science of change to help people write the next chapter in a life or business story.
What is the difference between a coach and a psychotherapist?
Coaches focus on solutions and on creating strategies for specific goals, rather than understanding “why.” Here’s an illustration of a fundamental difference between psychotherapy and coaching. A woman recovering from bulimia wrote me after reading my book, Destiny: An Uncommon Journey.
She said, “That could be a profile of my life. I’m sure a lot of other people experience the same thing. I don’t want to relive this pattern over and over again. There seems to be this circuitry that I keep entering. Destiny had to trust in order to learn. When will I learn to trust? I keep peeling back more layers. How many layers to these distortions are there?”
I wrote back the following response. “We each have a personal story with a plot and storylines. Our beliefs ghostwrite that story. Instead of the model of layers going deeper to discover the next layer, (since when you peel back all the layers of the onion, what’s left is not a pure, unadulterated onion, but nothing, since you’ve destroyed the object of the quest), consider generating a new story. You can assess if you are stuck in an old story, plagiarizing an earlier version of yourself. Then you can edit the repeating storyline, or create a new one.”
Neuroscience research indicates that
focusing on problems deepens—further
etches—the already existing brain circuitry.
I have mentored healthcare professionals to apply coaching methods and tools to more effectively deal with eating disorders and life transitions. Here are some of the principles that integrate research in neuroscience, psychology, and professional coaching.
- The prerequisite to change is not necessarily insight and understanding. You have to be in a new story before you can give up an old story.
- Someone does not have to be motivated to begin doing something. An action can generate its own motivation.
- Change requires ownership of a person’s story—that authorship is an active, self-determined process, not determined by external authority or ghostwritten by past experiences.
- Knowing what not to do is at least as important as knowing what to do.
- Distinguish what to change, accept, let go, and enhance.
- Change is constant and inevitable; it is the resistance to change that generates most problems.
- Small changes lead to big changes. When people create their own answers, they have signed on to invest in the outcome.
- Problems, causes, and solutions are not always related or even inter-connected.
- The benefit of doing more of what is working and less of what is not will become self-perpetuating.
- Focus on the present moment to establish SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound); determine three key initiatives for each goal; decide on the next best action for each initiative.
- You create what you expect. Beliefs drive behavior. Behavior drives performance. Choose the beliefs that serve you.
- Each behavior is a choice. (Each bite you take is a choice. Do you like your choices?)
- It is the process of looking to someone or something else to fill what is missing that creates something missing.
- Both conformity and opposition occupy the same prison.
- A true freedom is not requiring someone else to respond in a particular way in order for you to proceed or to be happy.
- That which you can imagine and believe can be achieved. You become what you believe yourself to be.
- All you have to do is the next right thing. Sometimes it isn’t clear what the next right thing is, but you can almost always be clear what it isn’t.
- Change is hard work—but it’s worth it.
By David Krueger, MD
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Winter 2007 Volume 5, Number 1
©2007 Gürze Books
About the Author
David Krueger, MD, is an Executive Mentor Coach, book author, and CEO of MentorPath, an executive coaching firm to help professionals create strategies to succeed. Visit his website at www.mentorpath.com
Dr. Gnap website editor eatingdisordersrecoverytoday.com. Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.