When I talk about change, what do I mean? Change can mean as a shift or alteration of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, habits, desires and perspective (interior change). Change can also mean a shift or alteration of circumstances (ie: jobs/relationships/finances), conditions/environment (i.e. living/financial/health) (exterior change).
I believe interior changes can support desired exterior changes, and sometimes exterior changes can support interior changes. When we ask, “Can people change?”, we’re talking about the internal landscape…the changes in perception, thoughts and beliefs that can create new possibilities and new outcomes in a person’s life. I just saw a wonderful production of A Christmas Carol – a classic story of redemption. Scrooge, visited by three ghosts, who help him examine his past, present and likely future, offer him an ultimatum – change NOW (Christmas Eve) or meet the inevitable lonely, loveless death that your chosen thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions will dictate. With the grace-given clarity he’s offered, Scrooge chooses a major interior overhaul — casting out his stinginess and replacing it with joyous generosity. Has has reinvented himself in the course of a night.
Such radical shifts are a documented phenomena. Often a near-death experience, a sudden loss, or a painful reconciliation with the truth of one’s denied circumstances can force a major shift, often identified as a spiritual awakening. Pema Chodron, the prolific American Buddhist nun, chronicles her awakening, in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her best-seller, Eat Pray, Love, has a radical surrender of life as she knows it, which prefaces her quest for new definition.
Change is stressful. There’s a process that occurs in the brain that signals “danger” when we have creative thought that would have us leave our comfort zone. Creative thoughts occur in our pre-frontal cortex, the newest part of the human brain that’s been developing since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, these creative thoughts are slowed down by the amygdala, located in the limbic system of the brain, which controls our “fight or flight” response. Whenever we have an idea for change, regardless of how positive it may be, our fear is triggered, and the amygdala restricts access to the pre-frontal cortex, which makes it harder to act on our creative impulses. That’s why, without a major push, such radical shifts are rare.
Small steady, baby steps are often much more successful at creating lasting change. Baby steps can sneak past the alarm system of the amygdala, and while we continue to advance in the small steps, resistance wears down, new neural pathways form, new habits develop. A desired change that once looked scary and close to impossible, can be mastered and become the new “automatic” way of thinking, being and doing.