Humans hate change. We do everything we can to avoid it. We are afraid of losing control, of uncertainty, of surprises, of difference. It makes us feel threatened. We become defensive and recalcitrant, even when there is proof that change will shine a brighter outcome upon us.
In America, Orthopaedic spine surgeons are performing over 600,000 back and neck fusions a year. It’s big business. Dr Joseph Mercola interviewed the orthopaedic surgeon Dr David Hanscom, author of Back in Control- Taking Charge of Your Chronic Pain Treatment. When studies showed over and again that the fusions were only 15 – 25% effective in stopping chronic back pain Dr Hanscom started to look deeper. He discovered acute pain is registered in the pain region of the brain but after six months to a year it leaves that area and settles in the emotional region of the brain as chronic pain. To simplify, he realized that anxiety was setting off the adrenals and causing inflammation. It becomes a whole syndrome of the neurophysiological disorder, instead of just a physical one.
He decided to treat the anxiety. He now gets patients to do expressive writing about their negative thoughts, then asks them to immediately throw it away, without judging or analyzing the content. Over a period of time it helps to break the negative, anxious cycle. He focuses the patient on reprogramming, repetition and relaxing the body system. The programme also includes active meditation or mindfulness (awareness, detachment, and reprogramming), good nutrition, sleep, de-stressing, a positive outlook and body strengthening. It is a comprehensive retraining and it requires willingness and engagement on the part of the patient. If they are prepared to engage, it works. Dr Hanscom says: “There are about six world experts on this process. All of us have the same experience about 90 to 95 percent success rate of patients doing much better, dramatically better… And this is going to pain-free; this is not just managing the pain… The stories are very, very consistent. The timing is different. Most people spend three or six months doing pretty well. I’ve seen people two or three years later eventually do well. But people willing to stick with the principles – again repetition is key – it really is just a matter of time.”
But most people aren’t prepared to change their lifestyle even though pain is the body’s way of telling us that we need to change something. Dr Hanscom says most would rather go under the knife, with its bleak outlook, than take responsibility and control of their own chronic pain treatment. “I see people coming who seem to be very smart, intelligent, and motivated, and they just don’t engage. The only thing that’s making a difference is people’s willingness to engage. Dr.Gordon Irving, the head of my pain management, figured out a couple of years ago that the only factor that determines success is whether they want to engage or not.”
Our egos are steadfastly intent in getting in the way of change. We build up habits over time, we settle into our defaulted systems. We go for the path of least resistance. We want to take the easy route, even when the results are giving us a hard time.
According to Andrea Simon, Ph.D., Cultural Anthropologist & CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants in their article in Forbes Magazine:
Habits are powerful and efficient. As you mature, your brain creates a mind map that sorts reality into a perceptual order and creates effective, quickly established habits. The result: your brain limits what it sees and reality conforms to past perceptions. Early lessons in life and business play a heavy-handed role in keeping you from seeing things in fresh ways.
Your brain hates change. When you’re learning something new, your prefrontal cortex must work very hard as you experiment with unfamiliar ideas. Since your brain uses 25% of your energy, no wonder you feel tired and your head hurts when learning!
You have to “see and feel” new ways of doing things, not just read about them. Experiential learning is critical. As you learn, your brain actually changes, reflecting new decisions, mind maps, and reality sorting. As soon as a challenge presents itself, your brain will want to hijack the new thought patterns.
It is not enough to just think creatively, we have to also take action. Then our brains will leap on the bandwagon and its resistance to change will transform into welcoming it. In “Neurosciences and Leadership,” David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz tell us: “When people solve a problem themselves, the brain releases a rush of neurotransmitters like adrenaline.”
But it takes a lot to get people to the place where they are ready to do what it takes. It’s all very well, lying on a beach in the sunshine, dreaming of how, on returning home we will resume our gym sessions, ditch the daily sugar hits, drink less, reduce the stress at work, spend quality time with the kids, find a hobby. As soon as we are back in the grey and the grind, the good intentions go to pot, even when our health and mental well-being depends on it. We may want to create change but old habits die hard. Studies show that only one in nine patients who have undergone coronary bypass surgery will actually adopt healthier day-to-day habits, but all too soon they settle back into the well-worn path of life even though they know it’s probably not in their best interests.
The trouble is, change is hard work. Sophia Kristjansson, Emergenetics International Associate says:
“This is because of the interplay between working memory and focused attention. Working memory is considered a holding area where new information can be compared to known information already stored in the brain. To perform a rational comparison of new to old, the brain engages the prefrontal cortex — the brain’s center for rational thinking — which is energy-intensive and can only hold a limited amount of information at a time. It fatigues easily. The brain is also wired to recognize environmental errors – perceived differences between an expected outcome and the actual outcome. When the brain perceives a contradiction, intense neural firing takes place in an area of the brain connected to the fear center. This, in turn, engages the fear circuitry of the brain and can start an anger or fear response that is highly counterproductive to any change process.”
We put all our energy into creating change and when the desired results aren’t immediately forthcoming, we sink back into our own negative feedback: “What’s the point? It’s never going to work, I’m useless, Success isn’t for me, people like us don’t get rich anyway, I’m never going to get a six-pack, etc.” It’s easier to step back into the usual habits we have repeated so many times. Habits are engrained in our basal ganglia deep in the core of our brains. If we attempt to railroad the habits and use our pre-frontal cortex to intellectualize that it is in our best interest to affect change, as soon as we perceive failure, our fight or flight mechanism in the amygdala, kicks in, we panic and retreat into what is easy. The die-hard habits.
In his book, The Mind & The Brain, Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., discusses studies he conducted on OCD patients to help them overcome their biologically engrained habits. He used an effective 4-step process with the study subjects to affect lasting change. We don’t need to be fully-fledge obsessive compusives to benefit from this habit basher.
Step 1: Relabel the thought. Call it what it is, and depersonalize it. It’s a reaction, it’s not you.
Step 4: Revalue the thought. Achieve objectivity. Tell yourself that you are responding this way out of habit. Eventually, the intensity of the thoughts will change.
Step 3: Refocus the thought. Interrupt the pattern. Do anything else to distract yourself.
Step 4: Revalue the thought. Achieve objectivity. Use evidence to prove you are succeeding.
Change won’t happen overnight. There will be mini-successes and major setbacks. It is important to understand the process and record the positive results. You will easily remember the failed attempts and forget the small achievements. You need to switch this around. The more you focus on each step forward the more your brain will resolve to entrench it’s new found successes. The brain is plastic; with enough repetition is will gradually build up new habits and in so doing, change will arrive.
The world changes and we must change with it. We must harness our brains into propelling us forward; it’s tricky but it’s possible. It takes creativity and commitment, humility and perseverance. It takes willingness and hard work. But to evolve into happier beings we must take those steps to change.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Work with accredited coach Lou Hamilton to affect positive change and start creating a happier life for yourself. Lou@createlab.co.uk
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