Day 54… Falling off the Horse…

This is a critical point in success and fulfillment. When we start doing the right things… eating right, exercise, meditation, etc., we generally take those things on as a change, but why change? The human animal is an efficiency expert. We are designed to learn how to survive in our environment. We are incredible adaptors, who can develop survival skill sets from jungle climates to arctic wastelands. This is based on the way our brains drive new skills into the basal ganglia to develop efficiencies. We try certain things. When they work, we do them repeatedly. When we do them repeatedly, they become habit. When they are habit, they fire without conscious thought, and we are free to move on to the next skill.

When we take on a change, we are in direct opposition of the way our brains function. You see, for good or bad, what we do habitually at least at some level, has worked for us up to this point. It’s meeting our needs at some level. This alone could be the subject of an entire book, but for here, let’s just run with it. When we find ourselves inspired to make a change, it’s generally because our habitual patterns, while meeting our needs in some way, are doing so at a cost such as obesity, insomnia, addiction, etc. Those costs create pain, and in order to move away from that pain, we find ourselves at a point where we won’t accept the pain any longer, as so we commit to change.

Now we find ourselves in an extremely difficult situation. We have been surviving with our dysfunction for a long time. Like it or not… it works. In the long run it might not, but in the short term rewards department… so far so good. So, when we start trying to do the opposite, say get to the gym at 5AM or eat kale more often (which in my humble opinion no one should do), we are taking action directly in opposition to what has already been programmed it. The result is, these new actions take up a lot of emotional and biomechanical (glucose) reserves to do. The great news is that repeatedly doing something will become a new habitual normal after as little as 21 repetitions (up to 90 for those who develop habits more slowly). But then there’s the bad news…

The old way… it’ll always be with us. Everything we do and have believed about ourselves, once seated in the basal ganglia, is there for life. It’s like a groove running through the gray matter. Yet, imagine a street sign at the beginning of two grooves. It says “Stressed?” and the arrow points down the path labeled “Go to the gym” or “meditate”. That’s good. Yet, there’s an old groove next to it, dark and unused for years, that’s labeled ‘smoke’. That sign won’t turn for me because my exercise and meditate habits are so much stronger after years of repetition, but the desire to smoke is still there… lurking. This is exactly why an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic.

The core of this post is this: This all means as we develop new habits, we have to stick with them a good 21 to 90 days to build a new groove in the basal ganglia. When we stay the course, we’ll be set. …perhaps. There are two concerns. The first is, even after we change the street sign, it’s easy to go back the newer the new path is. Consider that the old path was used thousands of times. Now the new path is only 90 iterations new. Vigilance is required. Then there’s the next, and more insidious danger, as we work through our 90 iterations, something happens. We start to find success. We start sleeping better, we begin to lose weight, we feel better… and that all causes the pain that initially motivated us to change to fade. If we are motivated soley by this pain, when it fades, we most often drop our guard and go back into our efficient brain… which, without well-seated new habits… goes back to the old, what worked, patterns. We grab a bag of chips, a cigarette, allow neurotic thinking back in, etc.

So what can we do about it? It’s very straight forward… but that’s a post for another day as I’m WAY over my 500 words today…

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