How Change Impacts the Brain and Holds You Back

Change – that can be a scary word, more so for some people than others. Change means moving away from something we know and moving to something we don’t – and that can create resistance. Some individuals will drag their heels, refusing to the change while others will go with it but are kicking and screaming reluctantly, while others will cruise along to see how things go and either will accept or reject. We get these types of responses whether the change is forced on us or it is for something we want for ourselves.
Why is change so difficult? Why can we just accept and move towards it as opposed to holding back? You know, the more we resist the more upset and frustrated we become. So what happens? How can this be explained?
We actually have to place blame on this brain of ours, especially the reptilian part of the brain, which houses emotions. When we move away from our status quo, and it feels threatening, that limbic system activates which will either lead us to fight or to be anxious. How we respond will be how we’ve coped and adapted over the years to stressful situations.
The way to move through change is to alter the way you see it – not as a threat but as something that will be an improvement which you get to know. Don’t think ahead or predict the outcome (‘It will never work’); plan and write out some solutions for how you will deal with the change, and tell yourself that it will work out. These simple steps help to tame the ‘dinosaur’ and help you to move through any changes that come your way.

How Comparing Yourself to Others is Detrimental to Your Health

One of the biggest roadblocks most of us experience, and which causes us to feel anxious or depressed – or even angry, is comparing ourselves to others. ‘I’ll never be as good as they are’ ‘They’re so much prettier than I am’ ‘The boss likes him better than me.’ Having thoughts such as this can hold you back from achieving your goals and stepping into your greatness.
I remember a story I heard a while back of a woman who was feeling very sad, unable to sometimes get out of bed to go to work; it seems the woman did not feel she was valued at work, reporting that other coworkers seemed to get all the accolades. She constantly worried about losing her job. Ultimately, she did after her performance lagged in her constant comparison and worry. She actually took herself out of the game, so to speak, by not believing in enough in herself and her value to show them to her organization.
Frankly, I see this over and over again – a business owner who is suffering as they tried an approach someone else did but was a ‘fit’ for their type of business; a job candidate who never goes after a promotion as they don’t feel ‘good’ enough; the manager who is overbearing to his workers, who he feels inadequate from some of his employees.
Feeling less than comes from comparing ourselves to others, which we learn early in life. It can start with a parent ‘encouraging their child to get all A’s in school as their sibling was able to, or we get scolded for something but then see our parents do the same thing. The typical brain response is to attribute an event to ourselves when we can’t make sense out of what we are being told, since our young brains are just learning how to process and sort information. Right and wrong are also just developing. Over time, we tend to believe these thoughts which seem to embed deep in our psyche.
We then feel inadequate, not good enough, and worry about any type of criticism. The results can include a host of emotional problems that may not be so transparent to others but leaves us dying inside. That little voice inside is always there for some, while for others it rears its ugly head during times of high stress or when confronted with situations that make us uncomfortable, such as when going for that promotion or even in our daily work-life. Cognitive dissonance comes into play as we search out for ‘evidence’ of those thoughts, so the coworker who walks past now becomes the person who doesn’t like us.
So how do you overturn these detrimental thoughts and stop the comparisons? I’m going to say that it won’t be so easy as these types of thoughts are deep in your brain and are now a habit. It’s the unlearning that will take time but there is hope – all is not lost:

  • Begin by assessing your situations for when you find yourself in a comparison mode; pay attention to your feelings as those will appear before thoughts  in our awareness. By paying attention to what areas you feel inadequate or not good enough, or your self-esteem drops, this will allow you to go back and reframe both mindset and actions and will feel more capable when you are faced with these emotionally trying times
  • Work to resolve past hurts, as it was hurtful when you were compared to someone else, even when done in a positive manner. Parents, other family members, and even teachers – those early influencers – want to motivate and have the best intentions but may not realize the impact of their words. Take ownership for how you feel, forgive, and let go. You will feel free and so much better
  • Validate yourself – you have a lot of good within, i.e. skills, interests, abilities, passions, etc. Brain research shows that for every negative thought we have, we need three positive thoughts to override it so take a cue and write down at least three positives attributes about yourself; these can include: your physical appearance; hobbies or aptitudes you have; passions you pursue; compliments others give you; actions you took to enhance someone else’s day or provide help; or when you were able to figure out or fix something on your own (a process at work, changing the oil in your car, etc.), or when you stepped outside your comfort zone and took action.

The key to unlearning and changing behaviors lies with being committed to the change and then being consistent in your new actions so that new habits will begin and then become the new habits embedded in the brain. Make a vow that this is one habit you will stop right now (the ‘next’ 30 day challenge?).