Steps and Handrails: Your journey through Change

There are many universal truths and none is more true than that personal change is difficult.  But why is that, you may ask?

Neuroscience tells us that the brain is programmed to seek out routines and processes that are repeated many times in order to store these in our autonomic nervous system as a habit or habitual behaviour – thus creating space in our brains to store other, new or more important information.  An example would be, driving a car or brushing our teeth.  These are things we shouldn’t have to give much thought to – we have more important things to consider or new things to learn with each new day.

Our brain is particularly alert to repeated behaviours that offer a reward such as dopamine and serotonin, two of the feel-good chemicals that are released when we experience pleasure.  Often, habits become counterproductive like, pressing the snooze button, couch surfing, or reaching for our phones first thing, as we wake up in the mornings.  Our emotional responses to what we see and the feelings that arise when we do this repeatedly tells our brains that this is a behaviour worth storing.

We’ve all heard about, and experienced the dopamine rush that occurs with each acknowledgment we receive on our social media posts.  It is this reward that encourages repetitive behaviours that can ultimately lead to addictive, or just simply, unhealthy behaviours.

Breaking that cycle of repetitive behaviour generates discomfort.

Discomfort is often misconstrued as suffering. As humans, we are programmed to avoid suffering.  Suffering need not be the tragic images or horrific events we see played out on our television screens..  Our brain equates discomfort to suffering. Whether you’re being attacked by a lion or getting up on a stage to speak to an audience or having to get off the couch to go tidy the kitchen — when you experience discomfort, your brain senses wants to protect you.  Isn’t that just the most bizarre concept, yet true?! That protection shows up in reality as humans avoiding discomfort.

It is THIS avoidance that prevents us from living our best lives, from achieving the goals we set out to achieve, from living our true purpose.  It’s not actual physical pain, just discomfort.

When last did YOU feel uncomfortable?

Maybe when you buckled your belt and felt it too tight, When you walked into the gym for the first time in months – you felt like everyone was watching.  You became so self-conscious you never went back. What about the discomfort of  writing an exam, of climbing stairs when the lift is broken, of driving past your favourite takeaway without stopping, of turning down that second, third or fourth glass of wine.  The great news is that we are unlikely to die from discomfort.  The chances are more likely that we will die from avoiding discomfort.

And, more good news is that, contrary to popular belief, our brains don’t stop growing after adolescence.  Our brain continues to produce new neurons associated with learning, emotion and memory, thus allowing us to carve new neural pathways.

So where and how does change begin?

Change begins with Awareness.

Unless we become aware of where change is needed in our lives, we won’t know what to change or even that change is needed.

Awareness is the simple but most often forgotten art of noticing things both inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves.  Becoming detached observers.

Inside of ourselves would mean, noticing what’s happening inside of your body…when you say yes, but mean no. Asking yourself – What’s that about?

Noticing a constantly nagging sensation in your lower back, your knee or anywhere in your body. Asking yourself– What’s that about?

Noticing how it felt to say no, and mean it. Recognising confidence and asking, what’s that about?

Noticing the warmth and fullness we feel when someone we love calls, or holds us in their arms.

External awareness on the other hand means noticing how your actions and behaviours impact others.  Noticing if people shy away from you, or are always needing you – asking yourself – What’s that about? What am I doing to cause that to occur?

Noticing that your decisions have a domino effect on so many.  What is that about? What could or should I do differently?

Noticing your ability to influence others,  questioning yourself – What’s that about – Maybe, how can I use this influence to bring good into this world?

What’s that about?

This powerful question is the key to opening many doors.  Doors to possibilities, your future, your heart, your soul.  There is only one rule when asking this powerful question and that rule is curiosity.

Curiosity 

Not so much a step as a handrail – Curiosity is defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary as “an eager desire to know or learn about something.

Curiosity implies intrigue rather than judgement.  Something along the lines of ‘hey, that’s interesting…”

Curiosity is objective.

Curiosity is kind and helpful rather than stern and willful.

Curiosity invites an answer that may cause discomfort, but if approached with curiosity, an overwhelming sense of knowing may occur.

It is in this moment, that self-care is important but also action.

A decision to change.

Once you reach this point, there should be no going back.

Notice, when reading this article, what is coming up for you? Is it uncomfortable?  What’s that about?

Where do you need change in your life?

What lengths are you willing to go to, to change?

Courage 

Mark Twain said “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is action, despite fear.”

When we imagine courage, we visualise great warriors like Spartacus, Alexander the Great , firemen, soldiers. We see women like Rosa Parks, Marie Curie or in today’s world, Malala Yousafzai, even Oprah Winfrey.  But we needn’t be famous warriors, survivors or celebrities to practice courage.

Courage in the face of change means sitting through discomfort. Listening to our bodies, listening to others who need to be heard, to receive feedback, to give feedback.

Courage means repeating discomfort everyday until it no longer feels uncomfortable.

Courage means standing out from the crowd rather than fitting in.

Courage means navigating through the emotions of anger, guilt, frustration, sadness, shame, and fear to come out the other side.

Commitment

The first real step towards action…. What do I have to do to commit?

Make a decision,

Set an intention..

Write it down.

Tell another and then take the brave next step of becoming still.

Finding a place where you can distil process and plan

Becoming still to do this, brings you to centre.  Awakens your inner wisdom, invites you to a safe place where you can ask important questions like

Is this what I want?

Do I really want this?

Am I willing to go to any lengths to get this?

Am I willing to surrender to whatever the outcome?

Action:  Use the Handrails

Handrails help us stay upright when we feel like we’re crumbling, they remind us we’re on a journey – they provide direction, stability and support, they prevent us from falling and hurting ourselves.

MY 5 ‘HANDRAILS’ ARE:

  1. Curiosity – it is kind and it is neutral.  It does not judge, it only informs.
  2. Courage – nudges us forward in the face of danger.
  3. Carving time – Practicing the art of stillness through meditation, being in nature and listening to one’s inner wisdom
  4. Connection – We are wired for human connection. Reach out, talk, listen.
  5. Consistency – Gary Player once said:  “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”  Building new neural pathways means repeating healthy behaviours and rituals as regularly as possible.

Which of these steps feels most uncomfortable to you? Which might be most familiar? As you make the decision to invite change into your life, you will need to take time to be still and explore not only each of these steps but also your feelings and experiences of each of them. It is in these moments when we are very present to what is going on inside us, that we are able to face the barriers and supportive elements for the change we want to create. And we are able to move forward more quickly and with greater impact.

Author: Paula Brown