OPINION: Why change is hard

Robert Labayen -- ExecuTips

Posted at Mar 05 2019 08:22 PM

Intelligent people are often irrational.

And they change their ways too late.

Scientists have proven that once formed, opinions and habits are so hard to break even if evidence shows they’re wrong. There’s such a thing as confirmation bias. We only accept information that reinforces our current belief while we ignore those that contradict it.

Others have a false sense of security. It’s the “it won’t happen to me” kind of confidence. For example, a recent article revealed that only 9% of people who had a heart bypass actually modified their behavior when advised to do so.

The resistance

Many people don’t start dieting until they have a heart attack or acquire diabetes. 

Neuroscientists say we resist change because it takes a lot of work for the reasoning part of the brain to prevail while the instinct part of the brain effortlessly leads us to old habits. The mind follows the path of least resistance.

Dr. Ralph Ryback wrote that the basal ganglia of the brain are responsible for neural wirings that make us do habits or automatic routines that make us feel good. We unconsciously give in to the delightful dopamine rush.

So, to keep our guilty pleasures, we rationalize our behavior. I have some smoker friends who told tales like “I can no longer quit at this stage. My father died because the withdrawal symptoms made him sicker.”

The resolution

Dr. Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney are the multi-awarded authors of the book Willpower. They admit that not everyone has an iron will. So, among their suggestions on how to resist temptation is to anticipate when they will come. For example, if it’s hard for you to resist beer, don’t go to the bar.

The authors also noted that “external factors” can be a great help to our change program. For example, if our goals are announced on social media, we can become more committed to our goals. A support group gives us a lot of change buddies, too.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal, the author of The Willpower Instinct, agrees with the need for an outside influence. She said that if we keep thinking about a role model with great self-control, we will increase our own willpower, too.

Dr. McGonigal, a recipient of Stanford University’s highest teaching honor, asserted that the strength of willpower consists of three powers:

The “I won’t power”, the ability to say no even when your body wants to say yes; the “I will power,” the ability to do what you dislike now for a better future; and the “I want power,” the ability to remember what you truly want or want to become.

We have already seen in this article that changing thoughts and habits is hard. But this is not an excuse to get stuck, rather, a suggestion to floor the motivation pedal. 

In The Motivation Manifesto, world-famous personal development trainer Brendon Burchard advised that the fuel of motivation is a continuous effort.

If we just keep doing what we should be doing, new brain wirings will happen. And better traits can become automatic.

Read :

Psychological Triggers by Peter Hollins
The Motivation Manifesto by Brendon Burchard
The Neuroscience of change: Why it’s difficult and what makes it easier by Sue Langley,
The Langley Group website
The Willpower Instinct by Dr. Kelly McGonigal
Why Facts Don’t Change our Minds by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker website
Why we resist change by Dr. Ralph Ryback in the Psychology Today website
WillPower by Dr. Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney


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About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.