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Why is it hard to change?

How to change? And why is it sometimes hard to change your own behaviors? Some things are useful to know before we embark on the journey of change.

Have you ever tried to change your behaviors or patterns of behaviors, only to find them to stubbornly resists? It is not only you. Change is actually difficult. Change is a process. It is so because our patterns of behavior are closely tied to our deeper beliefs.

The cause of our behavior lies in our unconscious. To be more accurate, it lies in our unconscious beliefs. We are often pretty unaware of the mechanisms of their operation. Our subconscious operates in ways unknown to us and it is often a shock to realize how much of our everyday lives we spend unaware of why we reacted in a certain manner or said something like we did. We human beings are very good at hiding things even from ourselves. Further, the unconscious reactions and mechanisms are often literally “preserved” at the level not accessible by words. They are stored in the deeper level of the unconscious, not available to us in order to preserve us. As many of the body psychotherapists know, these reactions are sometimes literally “stored” in the body

The same goes for our motivations for behavior. There are a lot of our unconscious motivations for behaviors that we are not even aware of.

Research from neuroscience shows that the only way we can change is to become aware of our own inner experience and learn how to make friends with what is happening inside us.

Bessel A. van der Kolk

Get to know yourself

It is often difficult to get to know yourself. To begin with, it is hard to see oneself. It is with ourselves that we mostly function like with a “blind spot”. We see others well, but ourselves the hardest. Only when we are exposed to some interpersonal dynamics, usually group one, often only then through someone else’s feedback can we get a picture of our actions.

Most of the causes of our own behaviors, and often the behaviors themselves, are actually unconscious.

Therefore, methods that work exclusively at the cognitive level are often only partially functional. It is necessary to somehow dive into the emotional-affective apparatus instead. In other words, change happens at the level of emotions. Emotions, on the other hand, are harder to change than behaviors and are associated with unconscious beliefs. Unconscious beliefs, further, have a function that was established at an earlier age.

Maybe we learned from our environment how to behave. As children, we often absorb the models around us, learning to imitate and copy behaviors and reactions. Also, maybe we had to take on some belief in order to survive. This function was positive for us at that particular time but has since ceased to be. However, this is why it is often “cemented” in our bodies. Therein lies the challenge of change.

The conscious mind cannot tell the unconscious what to do?

Milton H. Erickson 

The path of change

Affirmations or cognitive self-persuasion are methods popular in the fields of self-growth. But when we look at most of our behaviors coming from the unconscious, the question is how useful these methods are. In order to really believe in something, we sort of need to really believe it, to “know” it on a deeper level. One way to test this is to see whether we really “feel it” in our body. If we do not feel the thing we say to ourselves in our body, then at the deepest unconscious level we do not really believe it.  And it is from that deepest unconscious level that our behaviors emerge. It is possible at this level to reduce the percentage to which we set ourselves to feel something new, say to 5%.

But also, we are often completely unaware of the function our reaction has for us in the wider system. Furthermore, we may not even unconsciously want to change that function. Maybe we unconsciously believe it will disrupt our functioning in the wider system, in our families or friendships. Maybe it is the only thing we know and learning another kind of behavior seems to uncertain. Often this is the case.

Only by becoming aware of these things can one embark on the path of change. It is first necessary to become aware of the complex network of one’s own beliefs from which behaviors come. The answer to the question of how to change is first: to get to know ourselves. That is the very first step.