Whether it is moving to a new career or starting your own business, returning to school to study a program you are passionate about, or having a new relationship. All your desires can be quickly derailed when you entertain the pesky can’t, should, and what if’s that can creep into your mind.
Through recent advances in brain science, researchers have been able to track the energy of our thoughts moving through the brain. What they have discovered through observing different areas of the brain that light up in response to specific thoughts is that when it comes to change we all want to avoid it.
Anything we do that is a regular part of our day becomes patterned, habitual and “hardwired” and takes less mental energy to perform. When we start trying to step out of our comfort zone and make a change, even though it may be what we really want to do, our prefrontal cortex is stimulated.
The prefrontal cortex is the executive centre of the brain responsible for planning, reasoning and making decisions, and it is linked directly to the amygdale. The amygdale, often referred to as the primitive brain, is what controls our “flight or fight” response. So when we overwhelm our prefrontal cortex with new and unfamiliar ideas, the amygdale connection kicks in and generates the emotions of anxiety and fear.
So what can you do to offset this? One of the best approaches is to make your unfamiliar, novel idea of changing your career or starting your business more familiar. For a new idea or change to become less threatening our prefrontal cortex needs a lot of repetition. Talking about the change you want to make will help. Write about it in a journal, talk to a friend you can trust, or seek the guidance of a coach.
Vision is another effective tool. The images we create in our minds are powerful. Our previous experiences shape the mental images that we are both attracted to and repelled by. If you previously changed jobs and your move was unsuccessful, this will have had enormous impact on your mental image of changing careers.
Create a vision board of pictures and statements that generate positive emotions around the changes you want make in your life. Compelling images that reflect what you want to do, what you want to have and what you want to be. This will help you alleviate some of your fear and anxiety and lower your perceived risk in taking that leap of faith.
Finally recognize that your prefrontal cortex is always keeping watch for signs of danger. If you have expectations or make statements that feel unrealistic and which you don’t really believe in, your prefrontal cortex notes that and triggers a red light alert. It will seek to find other indications of false pretence and in turn, triggers the amygdale to respond with that “fight or flight” response. Being aware and recognizing what is happening on a physiological level can help you understand that fear of change is not just you and your lack of will.
We are wired to avoid things which we perceive as frightening, uncomfortable and painful. But remaining in our comfort zones doesn’t allow us to grow. Staying comfortable can create that sense of restlessness, discontent and stagnation. Yes stepping out of our comfort zone is going to be challenging and uncomfortable in the beginning. The good news is you don’t have to jump off the deep end to a make a change. If you are not ready to take that leap of faith, simply start by dipping your toes in the water. Talking about what you want and creating new positive images can be the refreshing kick start you just need.