6 Reasons Why People Don’t Change
The organising principle of the brain is to minimise threat and maximise reward. Your brain is happiest when it can predict the future, that way it can best protect you. The Change process for the brain means uncertainty and when faced with what it can’t control it goes into a threat state. Blood flows to the part of your brain that deals with threats and away from the part that allows you to make sense of the world and make decisions. In short, your brain is hard-wired to resist change.
You can’t change how your brain works, but you can use its little quirks to your advantage. Charles Duhigg says “45% of what you do is habit”, anything different requires us to use more of our prefrontal cortex, our higher-level thinking processes. This part of the brain uses up a lot of energy (oxygen and glucose) and tires quickly, sometimes it’s easier to give up than to feel the discomfort.
Why People Find Change Difficult
- Habits: Your current habits are hard to break, and new habits are hard to form. Your brain is trained to follow the pathways set down by years of conditioning, the habits we repeat most are literally etched into our neural pathways. Habit formation is the process by which new behaviours become automatic. The brain doesn’t distinguish between good and bad behaviours, it just builds repeated behaviours, thoughts, and feelings into stronger neuronal circuits. Our brains work on a trigger and reward basis—the so-called “habit loop”. about 40 to 45% of what you do may feel like you are making a decision, but it is actually habit.
- Loss Aversion: Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. First discovered by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, loss aversion is the human tendency to strongly prefer avoiding a loss to receiving a gain. Your brain is constantly scanning the world around you for potential danger and anything new can register as a threat. We are generally motivated not to lose what we already have than to gain something new. While the potential benefits of the change may appear obvious, the brain is more attuned to negatives since paying attention to negatives is more important to your very survival.
- Resilience: Is your ability to adapt well and recover quickly after stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy. Research shows that motivation often flags about halfway to a goal. You can change thinking patterns and behaviours that are hard wired through repetition, but it takes a lot of time and effort. That’s why people need to build time and repetition into the change process. We used to think it was 21 days to change a habit, research at the University College London found it’s more like 66 days. Change is like a giant rubber band that tries to pull us back, often the pull is too strong and that stops people from moving forward.
- Cognitive Dissonance: Psychologist Leon Festinger proposed the theory of cognitive dissonance, where people have an inner need to ensure that their beliefs and behaviours are consistent. People seek consistency among their cognitions (beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance or feelings of discomfort will remain until we restore the balance.
- Emotions: Whenever you feel uncomfortable, incompetent, or unsupported the alarm in your brain, the amygdala, doesn’t like it and triggers negative emotions such as anxiety, hopelessness and fear. Negative emotions can become substantial barriers to change and the only relief is to retreat to what seems like a comfortable place, your old way of doing things. As a result, we tend to act irrationally to try and prevent change, often without realising it.
- Environment: Your environment reinforces who you are, even when you don’t want to be who you are. Because change has such a strong impact on our brains, we tend to find friends and form groups that reinforce our beliefs. What we do every day and the people that surround us can cause us to continue down a path that interferes with our happiness and achievement of our goals.
Paying attention to these 6 points will make the change process much easier. Go ahead give it a go.