In the first part of Chapter 1, “What Do I Know About the Process of Change?” Learn how to discard beliefs that hold you captive to the past and allow your true self to guide you along the way.
Over the next few months, the Support4Change Blog will post the book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life in it’s entirety.
What Do I Know About
the Process of Change?
Nothing in the natural world remains the same from one moment to the next. everything is dynamic, continually changing whether we want it to or not, whether we are a willing participant or not. We are part of that world, and our lives can expand in response to the changing moods of each season, or we can contract by resisting the change we have been invited to make.
Three Paths to Change
Our lives change for three reasons.
The first, which we experience from time to time through- out our lives, comes from being pulled by the invisible force of biology and life-cycle stages to be a different person than we were before. A baby learns to crawl, walk, and run because she is hard-wired to move through those stages. in adolescence we couldn’t ignore our hormones and the changes they bring if we wanted to. And the inevitable act of falling in love dramatically expands our view of life in ways we could not know without that experience. Courtship, marriage, birth of children, the launching of grown children, and the on- set of old age each present us with different opportunities to evolve, grow and develop.
Not infrequently, when we have been inspired by a new vision of who we can grow to be, and what the world can become through our efforts, we are pulled to change. For instance, it is hard to read Paradigm Found without feeling compelled to make a genuine difference in the world by following our passion, just as the author, Anne Firth Murray, did when she founded The Global fund for Women.
Sometimes, though very seldom, we change because we are pushed by someone to become a different per- son than we’ve been. if that person is our boss, and our job depends on changing some habit or characteristic of our personality, the odds that we’ll modify our behavior are fairly good, provided we’re not asked to make too significant of a shift in how we see ourselves. in some cases, it may be easier to find another job than change long-ingrained patterns of behavior.
Think about it for a minute. How often have you been successful in causing another person to change through nagging, pleading, cajoling, demanding, beseeching, and otherwise shoving that person in the direction of change you wanted him or her to make? Not often, I would guess. I’ve certainly done my share of nagging, and even though i’m convinced the changes i want others to make would be good for them — and would definitely make my life easier — they resist. I’ve tried the push approach. It seldom works.
What does work is the third reason we change, pain. Both psychological and physical pain encourage us to work toward relieving our discomfort and can come from many sources. Your factory is outsourced and takes your job with it. Your spouse announces he is leaving for someone else. You’ve been given a diagnosis of a serious illness. Your business partner’s drinking has escalated. in all of these cases, it’s no longer possible to continue living as you have been.
Some of us are very good in putting on blinders, of course, and in ignoring a situation that would drive someone else up the wall. Yet we all have a breaking point. That’s why the questions in this book are designed to help you no matter whether you are pulled or pushed to change direction, or whether discomfort you have tolerated until now has become too painful to ignore.
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The Chemistry of Change
All change takes place in the brain, a soft four-pound organ that is the control center for how you live. it is the most complex machine in the universe with an incredibly linked network of 20 billion neurons connected to an average of 10,000 other neurons. if you could take it apart, you’d see an amazingly intricate network of trillions of synapses, or neuronal connections, that looks not unlike some vast multi- level spider web. it is estimated that the possible number of on/ off firing patterns, as chemicals are passed through synapses between one neuron and another, is ten times ten one million times, or ten to the millionth power!
We only use a small fraction of those potential connections, of course. in fact, we tend to use the same groups of neurons over and over, routing old thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, emotional reactions, and beliefs back and forth within the same pathways.
This coordinated pattern allows us to make sense of the thousands of experiences we’ve had over the years. if every single thing that happened, every word we heard, every picture we saw, every body sensation had to be analyzed and processed from scratch in order to understand it, that would take a very long time, even given the speed with which neurons fire. it’s much more efficient for the brain to assign meaning to an experience and create a belief or filter through which the next experience can be accepted or rejected as true and valid.
Soon our beliefs (the thoughts we experience when certain neurons are “turned on”) cause us to act (the body’s response in word and behavior caused by the firing of other neurons connected to our “belief neurons”) in ways that give us consequences we have come to expect (and which we then interpret in ways that reinforce our beliefs!).
However, what happens if the “consequences” resulting from our actions are not consistent with our beliefs? unfortunately, most of us, in order to maintain our internal status quo, tend to interpret what we experience in ways that correspond most closely to our beliefs. Since we all wear colored glasses (some darker than others), it is not surprising that the world appears tinged with the same hue.
Unfortunately, the cyclical reasoning of “belief-actions- consequences-belief” leaves little room for maneuvering or being open to new beliefs, which results in the creation of a “comfort zone” in which we operate on autopilot. This allows the brain to do what it’s always done, sending the same, or similar, thoughts down the same pathways. True, the cycle keeps us on a merry-go-round, but it’s the merry-go-round with which we are most familiar. As long as things are sailing along smoothly, we don’t see reason to get off.
However, when we’re in pain, or when we’ve been pushed or pulled in such a way that we feel we must change our lives, the brain will need to switch off some of the connections it’s been using to keep old pathways functioning and build new ones. When we can turn off enough of the old connections tied to old beliefs, we allow new neurons to fire, which allows the brain to switch on its “genetic machinery” (the ability of the body to create proteins for building new neurons), which causes the brain to change internal connections. Through this turn-off-old and build-new process, our brain’s biochemical environment builds new interconnected pathways.
The willingness to see things in a different way (to try on a new, clearer set of glasses, if you will) “turns-on” neurons that can allow us to interpret our experiences in new ways (i.e., create a new belief about life), which then allows us to act in a way in which we expect to get different results and, not surprisingly, discover they are different. over time, we change our lives by changing the chemical functioning in our brains.
Fortunately, one way you can influence the formation of new pathways is to ask yourself questions. As i noted in the introduction, questions require you to shift from a passive mode to an active mode of thinking. if your brain needs to answer a question that lies outside its normal reasoning path, it can’t continue using synaptic connections along the old paths, as it does when we operate on autopilot and the road to new ideas is blocked. By asking yourself the questions in this book, you are giving your brain new experiences. True, the questions themselves may not be earth-shattering, but in attempting to answer them, you are giving your brain permission to switch off autopilot thinking and lay down new neuronal connections that will, step-by-step, lead to the change you want in your life.
This gradual building of new pathways, leading to new beliefs, leading to new behavior, leading to new results is the consequence of what some people call “Kaizen” steps. Kaizen is a Japanese word that comes from two ideographs, the first of which represents change and the second goodness or virtue. The word is based on the observation that, with few exceptions, great inventions and great change don’t arise suddenly out of thin air. rather, they are the consequence of many quite minor steps that, added together, achieve an impressive goal. You can think of these Kaizen steps as small “first-order changes” that incrementally move you toward a significant goal.