Neuroscience & Why Changing Our Habits is Hard. ~ Stephen Light

Change is constant and will always be present in our lives.

In fact, the person you are when you start reading this article is different from the person you are after reading it—that is how quickly we change.

Medical research has shown that in one year the physical makeup of your body changes 99% and only takes four years to become a completely new you. That means part of us changes every single moment.

The big question is: Why is change so hard for us?

I believe it has to do with our inability to manage the emotional component of change.

The field of neuroscience reveals some interesting facts about how we deal with change in our bodies and the emotional impact it has on us. Let me share some interesting facts to create awareness as to why change can be so hard.

As you read, I encourage you to read it through the perspective of a behavior you have struggled to change: people pleasing, getting angry and shouting at people, putting yourself down, etc.

Our behaviors become addictions, and addictions are hard to change.

An addictive behavior starts with a belief that drives the habit. Saying to yourself that people love you when you do what they want supports the belief that you are not worthy. This type of inner voice drives the oft-destructive habit of people pleasing, a specific behavior linked directly to our emotions.

To change these behaviors seems easy on the surface.

You think, “If I allow others to put me down while putting themselves first and keep accepting this, then I am willfully not standing up for myself.”

The easiest way to change this is to say ‘no’ and stand up for yourself, right?

If only it were that easy.

Unfortunately, our bodies are working against change, and here is what is happening:

Our emotions drive our behaviors, and our behaviors create certain chemicals specific to those behaviors. The body gets used to these chemicals and eventually starts becoming dependent on them.

This is when change becomes hard.

When we try to change our behavior, we are fighting a to cause an imbalance to a chemical balance in our body. We want a change in behavior that does not produce the chemicals our bodies have become dependent on. Our bodies fight our attempts to change on a chemical level, and change becomes hard.

These emotional addictions seek out the situations that serve the chemical being produced and our brains start craving these chemicals.

Dr. Candace Pert, Ph.D., professor at Georgetown University Medical Center and author of Molecules in Emotion, discovered that our brains have opiate receptors that chemicals connect to and produce an effect on the body. The various emotions that we feel create specific chemicals in the body that connect to our brain via these opiate receptors. These chemical cocktails are unique to each emotion.

Furthermore, Joe Dispenza, author of Evolve Your Brain, identified that for each unique emotional chemical cocktail, there are unique receptors. The more we produce this chemical cocktail, the more the brain produces the receptors. The implications are profound.

The more people pleasing we do, the more we produce the unique emotional chemical cocktail associated with the habit of people pleasing and the hungrier we become for the people-pleasing chemical cocktail.

We become addicted to our habit of people pleasing on a chemical level, which makes changing hard, because change requires that we behave and feel differently.

Behaving and feeling differently is uncomfortable as it is not familiar to us due to years of being a certain way. When we decide to change, we feel a level of discomfort and have saboteurs (negative beliefs) as well as chemical imbalances working against us.

But we can change if we are conscious and intentional about the change.

Now that we know what is happening inside of us, we do not have to feed it. We will get over the discomfort. The more we consciously choose to be different, the fewer chemical cocktails and receptors we produce.

The cravings for your addiction lessen, and you change.

So, be aware that change is challenging and be hopeful that it is possible with conscious choice.

You have the ability to change, you just have to be serious about it and have a big enough why to stay motivated.



Stephen Light lives in Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom. He is a coach and leadership facilitator. Stephen works in the space of self-reliance, teaching people to understand who they are and why they behave the way they do. Stephen loves running and has spent many hours on the road either training or running road races. Stephen is a husband and father of twin daughters, Madison and Caitlin. Follow Stephen on Twitter and learn more about him on his website and Facebook page.




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Assistant Ed: Paula Carrasquillo/Ed: Bryonie Wise

Image source: via Pinterest and Conrad Sak

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Tim May 31, 2013 10:13am

One of the inconvenient truths about human beings is that by and large, most of us are where we want to be; or we'd be someplace else. If your will to change is not as strong as your need to stay the same, then you are not ready to change. I was about 20 pounds over weight for several years. I didn't like it. I really wished I was thinner. I thought I was limiting my caloric intake by eating smaller meals, but the calories were still up there at about 3000 a day. I told myself it was just who I was and that was that. On an annual check up my doctor asked what my goal was going into retirement. I said to be as healthy as I could without taking any drugs. He said the way to do that is to lose about 20 pounds. My "chemical dependency" was eating food when I felt hungry. I changed that paradigm to "when I feel hungry, I'm gettng closer to my goal of being more healthy." I watched calories to eat only about 2000 or less a day, which was not too hard. 4 months later I had lost 25 pounds and have kept it off for two years. Shooting for the most important goal made my will change stronger.

Yvette May 29, 2013 5:37pm

This was a great article, right up until you offered your solution of making a "conscious decision". I was very excited reading the article, and being introduced to this new insight, and I just couldn't wait to get to the solutions provided. Then reaching the end of the article, I was thoroughly disappointed with the feeling of, "I've been duped again". More new information, but the same old feel good solutions that don't work for people who actually have this problem, from someone who probably doesn't. Lol a "conscious decision", give me a break. If it was that easy, we'd have done it years ago. You explained it yourself, it's a chemical dependence, how to we reverse a CHEMICAL DEPENDENCY? Personally, I think "conscious decision" isn't enough for someone like me, who has these habits ingrained within them. The problem is, I have difficulty making "conscious decisions" — that's my obstacle! I have made conscious decision after conscious decision, but my habits always outweigh the conscious decision. What's is the real solution for some one whose habit is so strong, that the person's will isn't strong enough to make a "Conscious Decision"? Anyone have the real answer to this?

Katie Fox-Boyd May 28, 2013 10:42am

Yes! Change is especially hard for people who are naturally anxious. Knowing that you have to be aware of the discomfort caused by change but to mentally override that feeling helps lead to successful change. My asana, meditation, and pranayama practice have been excellent tools to learn how to do this. Thanks for this article.

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