This is the 6th article of the series self-development. You can start from the beginning of the series here: How to develop self-awareness?
Change is personal. No one can impose it on you. Some people may coerce you to do things but as soon as you can “disobey” you will. Remember that the the one coercing you may be yourself. This means that you try to impose a change on yourself (a diet, a new sport habit…) but it does not bring the results you want or you do not go through the process required to achieve your goal. There are several reasons why change does not take place even if you consider it important.
Motivation is a fascinating topic. Many researchers tried and are still trying to understand what motivates us. There are many facets to consider and the scientific world does not agree on everything. Without entering into the philosophical debates that experts are going through. I am going to give you a grob definition of motivation. It is not aimed to be exhaustive but more to give you a basis of understanding and reflection.
The well of the conscious & unconscious mind
The brain as we know it today evolved over millions of years. At the beginning, there was just one primitive brain. Each evolution added a new “brain section” which is responsible for something specific. Scientist are still learning about how the nervous systems works but we understand the big lines.
So, let’s imagine a well. The water at the top represents the youngest part of the brain. The deeper you sink into the well the older the brain is. Simultaneously, the deeper you get the more unconscious you are about the way the brain functions. You can consciously access approximately 10% of the water at the surface of the well.
Decision are made from both conscious and unconscious mind
You take action based on 100% of the water in the well. This means that 90% of the motive of our actions lays inside the unconscious mind. This can explain that even if you want to change, sometimes you cannot. Something in the unconscious is stopping you.
Basically, you do not consciously know what motivates you to take certain actions. There are ways to find it out. You can try to make the unconscious conscious in order to apprehend what lays under the surface. There are different ways to do so: article 5.
It is important to know that your unconscious & conscious minds are leading you and that you can use your conscious mind to guide it toward that aim you have.
The unconscious reasons to not change
You can consciously want to learn a new skill (e.g. finding new projects or a new job) but you end up procrastinating… You may unconsciously want to:
- respect a promise you made yourself (e.g. I will never feel rejected ever again)
- respect a promise you made to someone (e.g. I will follow my family, community or cultural expectations to be a good person)
- keep a thought or belief alive because it brought you where you are today (e.g. I am an impulsive creator…)
Your motivation are not always clear to you and you can try to make them conscious by writing about it, exchanging with a coach or a mentor (someone who wants your growth)
Most of the time, you want to change in order to achieve a new state / goal. You need to take new actions and rewire your brain to replace old ones. The old habits bring you some kind of gains that may discourage us to learn new habits.
You are gaining something from not taking the required actions.
Every action you take brings you immediate “result” and second gains. It takes a bit more digging to find out what second gain is on the line. The first result can be destructive (e.g. not sleeping enough, working to hard) while the second gain fulfills a need (e.g. need to feel valued).
For example, if you used to procrastinate at work and want a promotion. You need to be more proactive. You may have a great plan about what you can proactively do but stop your actions because procrastinating gives you a feeling of peace. Procrastination is the first result and the feeling of peace is the second gain that fulfills a need.
The discomfort zone dilema
Changing requires you to go out of the so famous comfort zone. Your comfort zone is made of all the things you know and are used to. You may be used to bad habits, relationships and situations but they are familiar. Going out of it means going somewhere you never went, doing something you never did. It is about trusting yourself in doing something you never thought was possible.
The mental and physical signs of discomfort
When you go out of your comfort zone you may feel good for a while and all of the sudden you feel uncomfortable. It may look like this with you:
- Mental discomfort: overthinking, negative thoughts, not anticipating, reviewing the past or future action over and over again…
- Physical: stress, insomnia, eating to much or too little, feeling upset, helpless.
Humans started with a skillset close to zero. Our primitive brain, the oldest one (deepest in the well) make us to survive (breath, eat, diggest…). What you are doing write now in your life is the result of years of learning. You learned to crawl, walk, speak, think, read, write, drive, cook, use a computer, work… Every Time you learned something new you had to go out of your comfort zone because you wanted more than what you were able to.
Learning to learn is accepting to fail
Today, you want to learn something new but you forgot that to learn you must fail. The more you fail the more you learn. Would you be able to walk today if after trying the first time you gave up? NO. You did not know if you would ever be able to walk but you tried until you did. Are you confident about your capacity to walk today? I bet you do.
Whatever you are trying to learn remember that you will not succeed the first time, neither the second. You may succeed after the 100th time but you will. Accept to fail. Accept to hurt. Accept to be discouraged. Accept to feel bad and think negatively. but never give up.
Listen to the voice who says “I can’t do it” and do it anyway. The discomfort you feel while trying something new is the same one as the you feel when you realize you did not change.
You better feel uncomfortable while trying something new than reliving the everlasting pain of not growing.
Your mental models work against you
This section completes the discussion about getting out of the comfort zone. You use mental models to navigate life. They are made of beliefs, expectations and habits. You can read more about it in the second article of the series: Understanding your personal story.
You are not always conscious of those models until they are challenged or when you try to change without success. The mental models that stop us from creating something new in our life are usually in opposition with what you want to achieve.
Our brain faces a “cognitive dissonance” which means in simple words that you are holding thoughts / ideas that seem to be in opposition. The brain requires more energy when facing cognitive dissonance and it prefers less strenuous activities. It usually goes back to the low energy consuming old habits, thoughts and expectation. When you try to create a new habit you are asking your brain to “believe” in something uncommon which is strenuous. It is necessary to go step by step. I would even say baby steps by baby steps because it requires you energy and our body and brain where built to avoid losing energy.
If you want to create the habit of arriving early to work you need to break down the new habit loop into smaller activities. Introduce the activities one after the other but only when the previous activity is effortless. For example, train to prepare your clothes the day before, then learn to wake up an hour earlier, then train to always leave at the same time…
It is a long process but it is a good way to create habits that stuck. you can read the power of habits by Charles Duhigg to get more information on that.
This is all I could share about some of the reasons why change does not happen. DOes it help you understand why you could not create change in your life?