Most of us would like to make positive changes in our lives, whether it’s healthier eating, regular exercise, defeating bad habits such as procrastination, or developing good habits such as decluttering, patience, mindfulness, reading and learning, or being more productive.
Despite our best efforts, though, we tend to fall back into the same old habits and routines.
Why is that? Why does changing our lives feel like such a struggle? Why is it that 98% of people who made New Year’s resolutions a few short months ago have already given up, or forgotten about it altogether?
Most of us have our excuses. Not enough time in the day is the most common, but we also complain about other people getting in our way, having too much on our plates, or some fill-in-the-blank stress event set us back.
But these are not good reasons; they’re just good excuses. So, what’s the one reason changing our lives is hard?
We get in our own way. While we may blame the world, the problem is not outside of us; it’s in our own thinking. Do any of these sound like you?
- You mess up once, criticize yourself, and then never try again
- When it’s time to get going, you waste time on something easier
- You tell yourself it’s too hard, not necessary, or you just can’t do it
- You set unreasonable expectations and then beat yourself up for not making the cut
I think most everyone has displayed these behaviors when the going gets tough, but when it becomes a habit, we tend to make everything in our lives more difficult than necessary.
Why We Get in Our Own Way
Our brains are goal-striving organisms designed to make our lives easier. One of the ways the brain does this is by forming habits. This works great when we can tie our shoes or drive a car without a thought, but a problem when we build up patterns that are just coping mechanisms for dealing with adversity and fear of failure.
For example, being harsh with ourselves for messing up may be a way to deal with self-doubt, or it might be triggered by an internal fear that we’re not good enough.
When uncertainty arises, we tend to default to what we’ve always done. The brain becomes reactive, meaning our conscious thinking is no longer in control. Such reactions can include:
- Hyper-critical thinking
- Stressing out
- Getting distracted
- Rationalizing quitting
These are all habitual ways in which we’ve trained our brains to cope with the discomfort of uncertainty.
We often feel worse when we behave this way, but to our brains, these old behaviors feel more comfortable than the uncertainty.
How to Get Out of Your Own Way
So, how do we change these reactive habits?
By getting out of the way.
When we notice that we’re procrastinating, distracted, blaming, being harsh or critical, rationalizing, and stressing, it’s time to become mindful.
This means we become aware of ourselves in the present moment, recognizing that the negative thoughts and feelings are driven by a combination of past experiences and future uncertainty, neither of which are real while we’re mindful of the present.
In fact, by remaining mindful, we regain our focus and sense of control. Once the brain is no longer in reactionary mode, we can easily make good decisions in the present. And good decision-making is what it’s all about—because life changes happen one good decision at time.
Once mindful, we get our thoughts back to the task at hand. Once we start taking action, uncertainty and doubt fade away, and the bad habits go with them.
This is one of the reasons mindfulness meditation is gaining such popularity. It’s a great way to mentally rehearse staying present in the moment so that, when uncertainty arises, you have the skills to stop reacting and start acting—with confidence.
Changing your life isn’t so hard after all, is it?
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