Resistance, Ruts and Routines, Oh My!
Ever noticed that any time you make an earnest attempt to change something in your life, roadblocks will suddenly emerge unbidden from every corner of the universe? We get sick, our dog runs away, we fight with our spouse or our children, the car breaks down, or job stress goes through the roof. The world at large appears to be conspiring to keep us stuck in the muddy rut where we sit. I can’t help but think of warthogs, so ugly they’re cute, merrily rolling in the mud…
Even if you’re lucky enough that the outside world doesn’t plot against you, you’ll likely find yourself nose-to-nose with another obstacle: your internal world starts conspiring to keep you in your well-worn path. Yes, that would include your routine way of operating (i.e., habits), your time-honored perceptions and biases and let’s not forget fear of the unknown, oh no, we can’t leave that out.
Truth be told, people have a very hard time making changes – even positive ones – not because we’re all “bad” folks who are so set in our ways that it hurts. (Well, okay, maybe some of us are like that.) No, change is actually hard for a very good reason: we are neurologically wired for habit and routine. Why? Because what is “known” is almost always safer from a survival point of view that what is “unknown.” Even the particular way you get dressed gets hardwired. Do you put your shirt on first or your pants? Chances are that however you do it, you do it the same way without even thinking. Ever move your toothpaste to another drawer? How long did it take before you stopped opening the drawer where it used to be and automatically went to the new location? There are countless daily routines we perform without ever giving them a second thought because they’ve dropped down to automatic, below a conscious level of awareness.
Keep in mind that routines and over-learned behaviors (solidified into habits) are designed to make us more efficient and to keep us safe. Our routines serve us well most of the time. For example, automatic processes reduce our cognitive load, freeing us up to focus on other things. We can drive home without paying close attention to our route. We can prepare a complicated meal while watching a TV show or carrying on a conversation. This automation saves time and energy.
The problem arises, though, at the point when we need to actually abolish an old routine (like an anxious response) in favor of adopting a new one (like a calm response). As you might well have already guessed, this well organized, neurological outcry that happens in the face of potential change has a name.
It is called resistance.
Coming Up Next…
In our next blog, learn how best to beat your resistance into submission!
Your mFIT Daily Challenge
In the meantime, here’s your Mental Fitness Daily Challenge:
- Begin noticing all the things you do by rote or routine.
- Make two columns (Helps vs. Hinders) on a sheet of paper or two lists on your phone or computer.
- Now, jot down the routines you notice, deciding whether it is a positive (helpful) routine or a negative (hindering) routine in terms of your mental fitness, daily functioning, relationships, work habits, etc.
The GREAT thing about this challenge is that after one week, you’ll have a list of things to celebrate and a list of things you can target for change! Change is not a bad word, remember. Most of us aspire on a daily basis to become more of the person who hope to be and truly want to be. If this is true for you, then noticing what is not working well in service to your development, growth and happiness is a great first step toward your goal.
Take the Challenge a Step Further: Post Your Results
If you’re really interested in change, take this challenge to the next level. Visit our Mental Fitness Facebook Page and post the results of your challenge. For example, post one or two things you learned and want to target for change or post a few things you learned that you’re proud of! We’d love to hear from you!