You’ve tried it all. The planners, the self development books, to do lists, but none of them stick.
You’ve been trying so hard to change your routines and be more productive, but you’re constantly bouncing back to your old routines. It’s beyond discouraging.
And quite frankly, it’s not your fault.
It’s your brain’s.
Change makes your brain super uncomfortable.
Your brain loves predictability. When you tip the scale a little bit by doing something different, your brain freaks out. Then it tries everything to persuade you to go back to what it knows best — your old routines.
Your brain is used to all the things you’ve conditioned over the years — your diet, your work, who you talk to, and how you think.
Your brain doesn’t want change.
Let’s dive into how and why your brain sabotages when you try to change your life and what you can do about it.
1. Your Brain Focuses On Uncertainty
When you decide to do something outside the norm, your brain is tossed into chaos (1).
For example, you cook all the time. But today, you’re trying a new recipe.
You have a list of ingredients, measurements, and a rough idea of how to cook your meal. So instead of cooking the meal with ease, you focus on trying to figure out the right ingredients, exactly how much you need, and second guess your steps as you cook your meal. If your meal starts looking different from what you intended, you consider calling your mom for help.
Your brain is focusing on the uncertainty of the situation. But these aren't facts.
These are possible futures and consequences of your actions calculated by your brain based on previous experiences.
It's your brain's way of trying to control the situation, make sense of it, and predict how your decision to change will affect your life.
2. Your Brain Tells You Everyone Will Judge You
Something many of us do is assume what others will say about our actions.
If you choose to exercise, you might think someone close to you will say, “Wow, you are trying to change now? You aren’t going to lose that weight. Why try?”
If you decide to put in more effort at work to get a promotion, you might think your coworkers will say, “Wow. They are trying hard for nothing! They are getting nowhere in life.”
While it’s natural for you to worry about what people think, these thoughts aren’t real.
As a social creature, what your family, friends, and coworkers think matters (2).You want people closest to you to accept you for who you are. But when you decide to do something different, your brain tells you that others won’t like you because you aren’t fitting in with their idea of you anymore.
3. Your Brain Doesn’t Want to Fail
What if I fail?
This is a common question to ask yourself after deciding to do something new. This question often leads to a spiral of doubt that can make you second guess your decision and question how likely you are to succeed.
In this case, your brain is trying to protect you.
Your brain is telling you if you fail, people will think you’re a failure and they won’t like you. Instead you don’t try, you can’t fail so you won’t feel bad either.
Your brain knows that failing causes many negative emotions ranging from sadness and shame, to anger. To prevent you from those “negative” feelings, your brain pulls out all the stops to keep you safe.
What some people don’t realize is that failure isn’t a bad thing. Failure isn’t something you should be ashamed of. Anything worth trying in life doesn’t come with a guarantee of success. Failing is just another learning opportunity.
4. Your Brain Is Lazy
Change requires extra work.
It’s so easy to write down everything you want to accomplish and plan everything down to the T.
You plan, plan, plan, but when it comes down to it, you can’t seem to get started.
Why can’t you get started?
The answer: On top of protecting you emotionally, your brain also loves to save energy.
According to Dr. Boisgontier (3),
“Conserving energy has been essential for humans’ survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators.”
By not putting your plan into action, you’re saving both brainpower and physical energy.
A simple example is exercising.
Why would your brain want to figure out what to wear, how to do the correct exercises, and actually do the exercise?
Instead, you can stay on the couch and preserve energy.
This can apply to anything you do — from learning a new skill to doing a physical exercise.
Your brain is trying to be as lazy as possible.
Your Brain Cares About You
While it seems like your brain is trying it’s best to sabotage you, it really cares for you. It tries to protect you from losing your social circle, the unknown, negative emotions and failure.
But while it’s trying its best to protect you, it’s also holding you back from achieving your life goals.
Your brain's natural reaction is to jump into fear, but what if you focused on the positive side of change instead, you can help your brain relax a little and dream big?
Questions to Ease Your Brain’s Worries
Instead of allowing your brain to flood your thoughts with negativity and doubt, ask yourself the following questions. These questions are designed to focus on the positive and help you look forward to change.
From Uncertain → Certain
What would happen if you were certain you’d achieve your goals and the future you’ve always dreamed of?
What do your goals look like?
How do you feel after getting a promotion?
How do you feel spending more time with your family and friends?
How do you feel having more control of your day?
From Judgmental → Understanding
What if, instead of your family and friends being judgmental, they supported you and encouraged you?
What if people around you supported your journey to become the person you want to be?
What if you aren’t alone anymore and you have a group of people cheering you on instead?
Failure → Success
What if you kept going and didn’t fail?
What if you succeeded in accomplishing your goals?
What if those moments of “failure” helped you become more successful because you decided to keep on going?