Updated: May 11, 2020
Change is hard. We’ve all been in that place where we want something better for ourselves, but couldn’t seem to get the ball rolling. Dread sets in. We tell ourselves that we should, or even that we need, to get started, which often leads to guilt about not having done so. We remain stuck in place, unmoved.
It’s important to remind ourselves that our avoidance is a normal human response. We have evolved as creatures of habit, whether the habits are good ones or not. And the actions that we repeat, whether they serve us well or not, are the behaviors that go on autopilot.
Our brains are wired to resist disrupting our routines, because change requires additional energy. It is the brain’s job is to inform us of how hard any change will be, so it creates thoughts to assure us that our current existence is safer and easier, so don’t bother with anything new and unfamiliar.
This means that even when a change is potential improvement, there’s going to be some brain drama. If we choose to listen to it, we remain forever “getting ready to get ready”.
Recently, the image of an energy diagram appeared to me (dating back to my days as a chemistry student) and I got to thinking about how this diagram can be applied to any circumstance when we’re feeling stuck.
In a chemical reaction, the energy required to reach the tallest peak on the path from reactants to products is called the Activation Energy.
Just as it sounds, the Activation Energy is defined as the minimum energy required to change chemical reactants to their new products.
In our own lives, generating enough energy to get started is often what feels the most exhausting and leads to further feelings of frustration and shame (I should be able to do this”). This is because the brain immediately throws up roadblocks.
For example, I was working with a client who wanted to add dance to her fitness goals each week. As much as she wanted to dance, she couldn’t seem to make it happen.
So how do we muster enough energy to reach the peak, and overcome the energy barrier standing between where we are now and what we want to achieve?
It’s a two-part approach.
We can start by shrinking the Activation Energy peak, lowering the energy required to effect a desired change. We can accomplish this by removing some of the obstacles that might slow, or even halt, our progress.
Therefore, the first step toward reducing the energy required for change is to examine what is getting in the way.
Notice how your brain is protesting.
For my client, we started with a thought download exercise where we spent a few minutes examining the main obstacles getting in her way by asking the following questions.
When I think about my goal, what seems to be getting in the way?
What is one small step I can take today, or this week, to move me closer to my goal?
Why is this goal so important to me?
List of all the things that appear as obstacles for you. Find your next step and keep your big vision in mind.
For my client, the obstacles that surfaced were 1. not having the right music available; and 2. not enough time.
Thus, every evening when she wanted to dance, her thoughts were that the music wasn’t downloaded, and finding a playlist would take too long. Or, she would tell herself that she could practice later, until it became too late in the day. The dancing didn’t happen.
To address these obstacles and lower the Activation Energy peak, she decided ahead of time to download several music playlists into a designated folder.
Next, she decided that on dance nights, she would simplify her evening routine by either having leftovers or making a simple meal, thereby leaving more time for dance.
So far, this plan has worked well for her. She has been consistently hitting her fitness goals and is feeling confident about maintaining her practice.
How did making these little changes help? As each objection to change was addressed, the energy barrier toward change shrank. The brain was subtly and intentionally trained to do something new.
This can make all the difference.
The second part of this approach involves working on mindset.
Studies have shown that when we envision a version of our future-self who has successfully achieved our desired goal, we are more likely to stay committed to the process for achieving that goal.
This helps us step into the person we want to become.
Envision a future version of yourself, where you have achieved your desired goal. What habits is the future you doing? What will the future you know? Imagine how you will look and feel. How will life be different?
From this future place, we are better able to generate feelings of strength, commitment, and empowerment. With the result in mind, it becomes easier to develop the steps for hitting the goal.
It may seem that the smaller day-to-day actions are insignificant, but over time they amount to powerful and impressive results.
My client who has been successfully hitting her dance goals reported that it felt hard when she started her new practice, but then felt amazing once she got going.
Tap into your intuition.
You don’t need to know all of the steps at the onset. By lowering the activation energy to your goals and envisioning your future, better self, you can achieve and sustain your goals.
I hope you found this useful. Where are you feeling stuck? I'd love for you to share in the Comments section.