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Understanding human barriers to change

Change is a fascinating phenomenon. In nature, it is a regular occurrence and the only constant always renewing and transforming life around us. Every living organism on the planet goes with the flow of change, however, for us humans, the relationship with change often brims with resistance, hardship and unpleasantness.

Changes are imminent, but they provide threats. This creates uncertainty in our primitive brain, which encourages us to resist change, even if it is a change we desire. Simultaneously, change also provides opportunities for action – to correct past wrongdoings, to rectify the situation, to revise the current situation and become something new.

Only a few people are blessed with an ‘internal compass’, which navigates them through life by means of giving an unerring sense of direction. Most of us go through life unconsciously, on proverbial autopilot, controlled by a number of programs running in the background, which generally distort our perception of reality. Below I invite you to read my analysis of mechanisms, which constitute common obstacles to personal change and try to identify which of them may be a barrier for you.

1. Unconscious mind

The functioning of the unconscious mind compares to automatic programmes running in the operating system – the human brain. Thoughts in the mind generate emotions in the body. This emotional memory makes one create more of the same experiences until they become unconscious habits. Such habits have a stronger influence over behaviours than newly formed intentions, thus they often interfere with one’s efforts to change. The body subconsciously becomes the unconscious, hence becoming aware of these unconscious states of mind and body, allows us to successfully restrain and replace them with new ones.

2. Ego

Ego is a sense of identity within us created unconsciously by our brains from concepts about who we think we are. It tends to create unconscious barriers in one’s mind, which cause a drive to move away from imagined threats, discomfort or pain, resulting in separation and distinction from the surrounding world.

3. Life scripts

A founder of Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne (1973) defined the life script as an ‘unconscious life plan’. Developed from an early age these involve a complex network of neural pathways formed as thoughts, affects, relational patterns etc. These childhood experiences and beliefs often unconsciously control your choices in your adult life, hence a negative script may constitute a strong barrier to changing your behaviour. In my observation, a willingness to discover and work with the script enhances your awareness of your early interpretation of reality and decision-making in respect of your future life plan.

4. Fear

Defining fear as an emotional state evoked by challenges perceived as threatening compliments its original survival function of it, which is mobilising for defensive action against the danger by either freezing, fleeing or fighting. However, beyond the practicalities of it, it is good to have an awareness that fear stimulus only creates panic and chaos, hence provoking reactions, not decisions.

5. Comfort Zone

Comfort zone is a familiar but illusionary state of mind, which ‘thrives on regular, routine habits’, in which we feel confident, empowered and safe. The size of one’s comfort zone is determined by the number of emotional, physical and psychological traumas, which lurk in the dark shadows of our minds and reconnect one’s reactions with one’s past experiences, the fewer the strains the more likely we are willing to expand our comfort zone.

Too often we focus on making a change, without considering what the barriers to change within us may be. Hence why often it is difficult to sustain changes long term.

What do you truly believe about changing yourself?

What changes have you successfully made so far and what kept you going?

It is important not to be too demanding and to be satisfied with the goals you have already achieved. This is how you will keep your motivation as strong as possible. Make a list, and write it down if necessary, of what you have:

  • Succeeded

  • Learned

  • Undertaken

  • Changed

This reflection exercise will help you to gain self-esteem and affirmation - that’s a great start when approaching change. When focusing on what needs to change, what needs to evolve, and on future performance don’t ignore what you have already acquired and become your biggest cheerleader, by often saying to yourself: I will change, change is easy and I believe I can change!

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