I am constantly asked by clients HOW they can change unwanted patterns in their lives. The question is varied but usually revolves around the same theme: I keep doing the same thing even though I don’t want to be doing it. I guess you could call that the dictionary definition of being stuck, right? And it seems that in all of our lives there is some area in which we just feel that if we just tried hard enough, I would be able to establish a new patter. ‘Then,’ we tell ourselves, ‘Then I’ll be happy.’
And yet time after time, with every New Year’s Resolution that comes and goes, with each new promise we make to ourselves or our families, with each time that something doesn’t work, we feel like we have ended up right back where we started. The only difference being, of course, that this time we have something else to feel stuck about: another failed resolution.
So why is it that so many of our good intentions only end up bringing us full circle back to the same place, leaving us feel stuck, anxious, hopeless, and powerless? It all starts in the brain and the how the brain is wired to continue to repeat the same patterns. Making lasting changes in our lives requires us to ‘re-wire’ our brains. Quite literally. This is no easy task and for many of us may take a long time, if we are ever able to do it.
WIth the right tools and support, it is very possible to do so, however. The most important ingredient is to come to an understanding of how the wiring currently exists. You aren’t looking to start living a whole new life all of a sudden, I would imagine. Just make a few significant changes. You have to know therefore the connections in your brain you would like to keep, and those you would like to change. You have to understand the current wiring pattern before you can begin tweaking the connections that aren’t working for you.
I am not talking about medical surgery here, of course. I am referring to behavioral science. Our brains were wired a certain way because of the experiences we have had over the course of our entire lives. When there are similar experiences which occur time and time again, our brains lay down a ‘super-highway’ that is very easily traversed the next time we experience anything similar.
Abandonment experiences in childhood (real or perceived does not really matter here) are some of the most powerful in this respect. If we experienced being abandoned consistently over the course of our childhoods (de-valued, discounted, manipulated, minimized, controlled can all be felt as abandonment to children), our brains created a well-trodden path of meaning, prediction, and how the world works that as adults can be very difficult to undo. Because we carry a template in our brains that tells us that at some point we are GOING to be abandoned, then we tend to look for information that is consistent with that belief, and react preemptively to protect ourselves.
However, this does not well serve us most of the time because we are operating from a place that says essentially, “Because I am going to be abandoned anyway, I may as well do what I have always done, and not take any risks, not make any connections, and avoid people and situations where I could be hurt.” This mind set often leads us to begin re-experiencing the abandonment, because now we have isolated ourselves to such a degree that we are feeling the same isolation, worthlessness, and perhaps invisibility that we did as the template was first being laid down in our brains so many years ago. We only end up reinforcing that template then in the current situation because we have now built our walls of protection so high that no one can see us even if they wanted to.
This, of course, is just one example of the brain’s wiring. Hopefully you get the point. Making a change at this point requires the greatest courage we can muster because eseentially it requires us to start acting and behaving in ways that contradict the very reality we have come to expect and rely on as true and secure (even though very unsatisfactory). To act as if we are worth the positive change we would like to experience in our life itself requires us to step into an unknown reality that is scary and overwhelming.
This can be a vicious cycle for many. The very fear that comes up around making changes is the same fear that comes around to send us right back to the old behaviors and thought patterns that as least provide us with the security of knowning how things turn out.
Getting unstuck presents a very real challenge, not something many have just pulled themselves up by their boot straps to accomplish. It requires an understanding of oneself and an experience of one’s power in the present moment, the support of a trusted guide or friend, and the most amazing courage that is humanly possible.