Familiar habits and instinctual responses control and direct your life, automatically, in ways you may not even realize. If you’re struggling to get desired results, then you might be a victim of your own mental autopilot. Learn how to make changes last, and why change is so hard.
Your brain craves efficiency and safety. These things keep you alive and functioning, but they don’t guarantee you will flourish and thrive.
The brain handles a lot. Energetically, it’s an expensive organ using about 20% more energy by weight than any other part of your body.
Your brain does some things consciously, like problem-solving and goal-setting. Other things, like breathing and blinking, happen automatically and unconsciously.
Because your brain is responsible for so much, it looks for short-cuts and ways to save energy. That’s part of why your brain will keep you stuck in familiar ways of thinking and acting.
Familiar habits have established patterns and pathways in your brain. It is less expensive energetically to keep using these old pathways than to carve out a new neural pathway.
Aside from efficiency, your brain wants to keep you safe. Survival is a primary instinct.
When faced with potential danger, an ancient part of our brain called the limbic system reacts by fighting, running away or freezing. This fight or flight instinct happens lightning-fast, outpacing and overwhelming the rational part of your mind.
Our brains react to physical and mental/emotional threats that we perceive – even if the threats are imagined and not real. Me, I’m afraid of spiders. If I just see a picture of a dock spider, (a big, black, hairy, fast-jumping, leggy, creepy bugger the size of a fist) my brain goes into fight-fight-freeze mode.
It’s just a picture. It can’t really hurt me, but my brain responds like it’s the real thing. My heartrate accelerates, my breathing gets rapid and shallow. In short, my body responds to the picture of the spider the same way it would to the real thing.
It just goes to show the perception of danger can push the brain into a protective fight-flight-freeze mode. Your brain responds to perception more than reality.
Your brain likes autopilot and resists change for 2 main reasons: because change is almost always perceived as threatening, at least at a subconscious level, and because change is energetically expensive for your brain.
This is why achieving your goals can be such a challenge.
Your brain operates in 2 ways: consciously, and subconsciously or non-consciously. Your conscious mind is logical and rational. It is deliberate, conceptual and you are aware of it.
Your subconscious, or non-conscious mind is different. It operates outside of your awareness and is very instinctual, habitual, and perceptual. The subconscious is far quicker and more powerful.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said that humans only use about 10% of their brains. This is bogus. Brain scans prove that we use our entire brain.
However, only about 10% of our brain functions are conscious. Some scientists believe the number is smaller, and that only about 3-5% of our brain activities are conscious.
The vast majority of what happens in our brain occurs below the conscious level of thought. Contrary to what we like to believe as humans, we are not consciously at the control panel, directing our lives. Rather, we’re running, mostly, on autopilot.
“All told, this makes your subconscious brain like the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room. And, as the joke goes, what do you give an 800-pound gorilla? Anything it wants.”
~ John Assaraf
Goal-setting is an entirely conscious activity involving more modern, higher brain functions. Unconsciously, however, your goals may conflict in some way with your habits and old conditioning. This makes achieving your goals VERY difficult.
If your conscious goals are not in alignment with your subconscious patterns, you experience dissonance. This is like hitting a sour note in a piece of music. It’s jarring to the ear. The gorilla doesn’t like it.
The gorilla wants coherence. It wants all the notes to sound perfectly and in harmony.
The ideas of coherence and dissonance tie back to the brain’s desire for efficiency. Coherence is easy for the brain, but dissonance is energetically expensive. Change creates dissonance. Your subconscious tries to avoid change and dissonance by keeping you in your habitual patterns.
This is why change is hard. This is why willpower, goal-setting, planning or saying, “stop that” often fails to create the change you desire. Working harder probably won’t give you the results you seek.
Don’t get me wrong, goal-setting, planning and a good work ethic are vital. However, they are not enough on their own.
To be truly effective, you need to get your subconscious mind on-side. You need to align your conscious goals with your unconscious programming.
The good news is, you can retrain your brain to support you instead of having it sabotage you. You can reframe your perceptions and enhance your self-image in resourceful ways that help you take inspired action, and achieve your goals faster and with less struggle and pain.
The following are some effective strategies for bringing your subconscious and conscious minds into greater alignment.
- Mental contrasting
- Cognitive priming (affirmations, visualizations)
- Guided hypnotic stories
- Anchoring techniques
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Guided brain training audios and videos
- Neurofeedback training
- Neural rescripting techniques
Retraining the brain requires awareness, and spaced repetition of your desired thinking and behavioural patterns. To enhance your awareness become aware of the signs of coherence and dissonance, so you know where changes need to be made.
How to Recognize Neural Dissonance
• Lack of organization
• Mood swings
• Lack of personal peace
• Lack of energy
• Worry and stress
• Fear and anxiety
• Excessive procrastination
• Mind-wandering and chaotic thinking
• Lack of confidence
• Lack of focus
How to Recognize Neural Coherence
• Peak performance
• Being in flow
• Feeling organized and comfortable
• Clear, focused thinking
• Reduced stress and a feeling of calmness
• A sense of being emotionally grounded
• Enhanced happiness and well-being
• Increased confidence and certainty
Developing your awareness will change your brain. When you are aware, everything in your life becomes a choice.