Why We Don't Change Posted: 15 Nov 2012 03:28 AM PST
By Lee H. Baucom, Ph.D., ETR, Nov. 13, 2012 I was driving out of my neighborhood, headed to work today. And I realized I was going a way I don’t usually go. Or I should say “didn’t use to go.” What happened? How did I end up there? Okay, so give me a second to explain. There are 4 ways to exit my neighborhood from my house. I always went with 2 of them. Then, they decided to do some roadwork off the main road that encompassed two of the exits. And when I say “roadwork,” I mean wet tar, wet oil, pieces of scrap metal, etc. In other words, nothing I wanted to drive through! So, I decided (note I said “decided”) to go another way. The next day, I head off to the office. And I find myself driving the old way. I fussed at myself and turned around. That afternoon, I automatically headed in the old way. I fussed at myself again! The next day, I very purposefully set out to go the new way8 and started to turn the old way! “What is up?” I asked myself. I corrected, and went out the new way. The next few days, I forced myself to remember to go the new way. One day, I noticed I was headed out the new way, and hadn’t had to be so purposeful. It was just the new way out. And today, a month after the work ended (and therefore my original reason for changing), and I found myself headed out the “new” way (which is quickly becoming the old way). How many times do you hear people saying “that’s just not me”? Often, it is about some change—new hairstyle, new clothes, etc. Any change somehow challenges our perception of “me.” Even if the challenge seems fairly innocuous, if not downright useless. Yet we tend to stay in our routines, regardless of how useful that routine may be. If our routine is to eat that snack just before bed, even as the scales are warning us about how the “me” is expanding, we are likely to keep on snacking. Neuroscientists can tell us that the more we do something, the more the habit grows. And as the habit grows, we create a “groove” in our neurology. We connect our neurons to that certain habit. The longer we do the habit, the deeper the groove. The deeper the groove, the harder the habit is to break. And the more we begin to see that habit as part of the “me.” Which means that I discuss doing something differently in their marriage. I request they act differently toward a spouse, stop yelling, bring flowers, call to update, etc., etc., etc. And the response I get is “I can’t do that. I just can’t
change. That’s not me.” Precisely, I think to myself. But the “me” they are operating from is NOT working, and IS causing a problem in their marriage. So why not try to change? Because change is hard! At least in the beginning. Until the change becomes habit—becomes the new “ME.” Which brings us to the important piece, “what to do about it!” We all know change is hard. But change is life, right? So, let’s start with this: if it ain’t working, time to change. Let’s just agree to that. If we can’t agree to that, then the rest is irrelevant. Still with me? Okay, so let’s first define what it is you need to change. What do YOU (not your spouse, as you have no control over that) need to change in how you interact with your spouse? Write that down. Now ask yourself this: “Is that really a core piece of myself?” “Does it really define me as a person?” “What if I do it differently. Will I be an entirely different person, or will I just be interacting differently?” Be clear about that. How you interact is not who you are. It is a habit of interaction. Next step: what is the better way to interact? Why is it a better way? Again, be clear about this. Now, notice when you usually do the old way. Imagine a time when you did just that, then re-imagine it with the new way. Next step: assume you will not be perfect. Remember my driving? I kept leaving the old way. But I stopped and corrected. Same for you. When you try the new way, if you find yourself starting down the old way, stop. Apologize, and try it the different way. Then keep on trying the new way. One day, and in not as long as you think, the new way will be the old way. Keep changing. That is the nature of life. It’s all about growing!