It is likely that on more than one occasion you have been offered to change. Change your lifestyle, change those thoughts that make you feel bad, change the way you interact with others ... But it is also likely that after a short period of "trial" you have given up and regained old habits, which usually generates a lot of frustration. What happened?
In reality, we are beings of habit. It is not our fault, we are programmed this way. Our brain is a born energy saver, it wants to do as much as it can with minimum effort. Also, it's not that bad either, habits save you time and energy that you can devote to more important things. But the problem arises when we become victims of these habits and ways of thinking, when we leave no room for change. So we end up running on autopilot perpetually on and start dying slowly.
How do our two minds work?
We have not one, but two brains working together through ascending and descending neural wiring. There is a subcortical brain, which is more primitive and uses the ascending pathway to communicate with the neocortex, which is the highest level of the brain and is linked to conscious decision making, thinking and emotional self-control. This brain uses the downward path to communicate with the subcortical area.
Therefore, it is as if there are two minds working in unison. The subcortical mind is always active, faster, involuntary and automatic. It is motivated by impulses and emotions, takes care of our usual routine and guides our actions when we have to make a decision within a few milliseconds.
The neocortex is slower because it works voluntarily. Its task is to indulge the routine, silence emotional impulses, learn new models, outline projects and make decisions of which we have weighed, more or less, the pros and cons.
The interesting thing is that every time we have to learn something new, the neocortex is activated. But as we begin to master the new business, for a mere question of energy economics, the balance begins to tilt towards the descending side. Thus, the more we repeat a certain routine, the more the neocortex will be disconnected and the subcortical area will be activated.
The brain works this way to save energy. With this distribution of tasks, the brain tries to achieve maximum results with minimum effort. Of course, it is not something negative, on the contrary, in this way the rest of our cognitive resources are released.
In fact, the automatic system works quite well most of the time, but it also has "weaknesses". Our emotions, motivations and prejudices cause inclinations and misalignments that we are not aware of. Therefore, if we don't activate the neocortex from time to time, we run the risk of getting stuck in the comfort zone created by our brain.
Choosing change can be scary but it is essential
Change implies innovation, and all new stimuli first pass through the subcortical zone. However, when our minds have been functioning on a routine basis for too long, this change generates an alarm response. The amygdala considers it a danger that destabilizes the equilibrium reached, so it raises the alarm.
If we are unable to overcome this phase we will be paralyzed, overwhelmed with fear. We will be stuck in our comfort zone, where we will feel more comfortable, but sooner or later, when the world changes, we will realize that we have not been able to adapt and change our habits. And it is precisely at that moment that our comfort zone will become an uncomfortable place in which we will feel uncomfortable.
Therefore, it is important not to rely too much on our subcortical area and to keep our neocortex active. This means that we must:
- Develop full attention, become more aware of what we have around us, of our habits, thoughts and emotions.
- Look for the new and live new experiences, so that the subcortical brain is not afraid of everything new.
- Reflect on our habits and beliefs, asking ourselves if they are still functional or have lost their raison d'etre.
The secret to change is simple: make the decision with our neocortex, and then involve the subcortical area, in such a way that its function is limited to keeping us motivated. Doing so is easier when you understand that these fears, insecurities, and resistances actually come from the part of the brain that wants to keep you tied to old habits.
Remember that only when you have the courage to do what you don't usually do will you get different, often extraordinary results.