Most of us know the definition of insanity by Albert Einstein: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
We often quote, laugh or think about this saying, but how many of us actually take the time to reference it and use it in our own lives?
Well, this week I was reminded of it when I found myself getting frustrated for procrastinating over some paperwork. Not for the first time – it is a behavior that I have kept repeating and wondering why things are not different.
For some it might be the promise of starting that exercise program, stopping overeating, or being punctual or taking time for your family or partner that never seems to change, even though you may have many intentions of it being different.
Oh, how many times have I sat there having a pity party, wondering why my behavior has not worked for me, wishing it would just change on its own. Relate?
Well there are many reasons we get stuck in behavior that we know does not work for us but we keep repeating anyway.
Often there is something we do get out of the negative behavior. This is sometimes difficult to see or even understand without some reflection and making a conscious decision to make it different. But there can be some other reasons as well.
- We are uncomfortable with the unknown (i.e. a different, untried behavior)
- We do not always like having to take responsibility for our negative behavior (it’s easier to blame someone or something else)
- It feels like it is too difficult to change (we are unsure how to make the change)
- People might not agree/like us if we make the changes
- We may be afraid of the consequences
- We tend to like what I call the ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ feeling.
In other words, we at least know what to expect with what we are already doing, even if it does not work really well for us.
There is more to it though. First of all the brain is sort of lazy, it tends to work on automatic pilot, this often coming from the subconscious mind.
For example, have you ever driven home and not remembered the drive? That is our subconscious mind at its finest. We do it with little thought or consciousness.
This subconscious mind takes in all the information that has gone into our brain from our experiences and decides whether it needs to have this readily available or it can be put in storage and accessed as needed. This saves the brain a lot of energy and stops us from being overwhelmed with too much information. I liken it to how we keep some information on our desktop of our computer to have easy access to it, while other information we keep stored away in folders.
So where does this leave us with changing behavior? Well, as you are now aware, we cannot expect it to just happen, we have to start creating new networks in the brain so the behavior becomes easier to access.
Here are the steps to make those changes.
- Have a clear picture of what it is that you do want. You would be surprised at how many people know what they do not want, but do not know what they do want. Knowing what the end result looks like allows us to create new networks in the brain.
- Create a visual in your head of what the end result looks like and what it feels like, and create an emotional pull around it. This generates stronger neuro-networks and more of an inclination to make the necessary changes. Remember the brain is lazy, it likes to do what it already knows – creating an emotional pull helps counteract that laziness.
- Break it down into doable steps. This is crucial for the success of new behavior. If the brain becomes flooded, we just will not do it.
- When the brain finds that first step easy and you are successful (you can do it with little effort and thought), you build your confidence and are primed to add another step.
- Repeat these steps until the new behavior is now part of your life.
Beware of setting your expectations too high. So often we hear stories about how people lost 10 pounds in a week, or immediately went to exercising an hour a day for five days a week from doing none. These are often unrealistic. It is your journey and the end result is the goal, it is less important how long it takes.
So, if you want something to be different in your life, step out of what you know, take small steps to change the behavior and do not worry how long it takes.
And, it is always nice to feel like you are not insane.