Your brain on change – Why it reacts the way that it does

Your brain on change – Why it reacts the way that it does
August 1, 2018 Linda Murray
In Coaching, Leadership, Mindset

One constant and inevitable thing in life is change. Despite its inevitability, most of us are reluctant to step outside our comfort zone and embrace it. Reluctance can be worse even when change presents opportunities to learn, grow, and improve our position.

There’s a reason for that. It’s because of the way our brains have been wired.

Reflexes versus Reflection

According to the latest research, one of the reasons change is so hard is that it requires more energy, and processing time on the brain’s cellular level than when maintaining the status quo.

Change requires us to reflect on our options before we act. When we think first, instead of just reacting, it slows us down. Continuing our habits allows us to operate on “auto-pilot,” and allows our instincts, our reflexes, to drive our behaviour.

While it’s possible to break free of our habits and routines, it takes a lot of time, concentration and energy. We must practice the new behaviour and keep our resolve to act differently top of mind. To be successful, you will need more than a simple resolution to change.

Human neurochemistry has developed in such a way, by actively changing our habits it can stimulate the production and release of neurotransmitters that are involved in the “flight or fight” survival response.

When these chemicals are released, it makes us feel nervous, stressed, anxious and fearful. Giving in to temptation often results in the release of other chemicals that make us feel more calm and secure.

Neural plasticity

The good news is that nothing about our behaviours, decisions and performance is set in stone. Our brains are always changing and developing and making new connections. Essentially, when we want to succeed at change, we must establish new habits and routines, and reprogram ourselves to react and behave differently. Over time, this becomes easier as our brains develop and strengthen these new pathways so eventually the new habits become routine.

This is called ‘neural plasticity’, it’s what allows our brains to learn new behaviours and function in new ways. It’s because of neural plasticity that people with brain injuries can often recover so well. Their brains build new pathways around the damaged area and, through constant use and practice, the pathways replace the old ones.

We can use that same process to adapt to the demands of change.

Basic tips to make change easier

While changing a routine or pattern of behaviour is difficult, there are a few steps that we can take to make the process seem less taxing.

Create a ritual

Old habits can be broken when we replace the offending action with a new one.

To make it easier to remember to embed the new thoughts or actions, create a daily ritual which centres around practising the new, positive behaviour.

The more you practice your new pattern, the easier it will become the habit.

Boost your willpower

Pressure weakens our resolve, so take steps to strengthen your willpower when you are actively trying to change some aspect about yourself or area of your life.

Practice good self-care by getting enough restful sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and exercise daily to reduce the tension and stress in your body.

Gentle exercises such as stretching, deep breathing, yoga, tai-chi, and meditation are all practices that will help. They reduce pressure and increase mindfulness about what you are doing and how you are feeling.

Get feedback and encouragement

Seek out a buddy, mentor, or coach to help you in your change efforts. Be accountable to them as you strive to make progress. Ask for advice and other feedback during your change journey. Talking with someone about your struggle is valuable. They can offer tips and cheer you on to help keep your motivation levels high so that you remain focused on making the change a success.

The Leader’s responsibility

Before you dismiss the tips you’ve just read, especially those around self-care, you need to consider how your coping abilities will affect your team. They look to you and follow you. If you’re struggling, so will they. Some leaders see self-care as a luxury, but it isn’t. It’s a necessity for anyone who has their team wellbeing at heart.

When you understand how your brain is reacting to change, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the minds of your team members. Use that knowledge to help them cope with change, whether it’s self-imposed or a result of workplace change.

If you’re ready to make some changes in your life and career, executive coaching will help you accomplish the success you have always wished for. Give Linda a call on 0405 322 005 today.


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