- Long term change always occurs in small steps and requires persistence.
- The reason is that our behaviors today are programmed by our entire past life experiences.
- Most of your reactions are automatic, in your subconscious brain, and beyond rational control.
- However, you can reprogram your unconscious by repetition and creating more functional and enjoyable responses.
- Just start.
Many, if most of us, live our lives by endlessly dealing with challenges and then enjoying ourselves when we can. We often don’t have the time or energy to make decisions and choices to experience what we wanted when we graduated from high school. What happened to those dreams?
So, we spend a lot of time reacting to our circumstances instead of creating the life that we want. The problem is that any time you are anxious or frustrated, you are reacting to some unpleasant event from the past that was kicked up by the present. That is how every living creature survives.
We learn what is safe versus threatening and attempt to live our lives in a range that is neutral or safe. It is also well known that avoiding danger is a stronger driving force for behaviors than seeking safety. In addition to avoiding physical danger, humans strive to avoid mental threats, which have the same impact on your nervous system and body. Research has shown that the physiological responses are the same.1 But since we cannot escape from our thoughts, all of us have some level of a constantly activated nervous system that wears us down. We have discussed many ways de-energize this process.
Then the other part of healing is moving into the part of your brain that experiences pleasure and is safe. It is a process and an acquired skill. Like becoming a virtuoso violinist, it requires repetition to make it a habit. It is again the only way to affect your subconscious brain.
ReaCtive to Creative
If you take the letter “C” out of the middle of the word, “reactive”, you have the word, “creative.” If you can create some space between your stress and reaction, you can substitute a more rational response and with repetition, your brain physically changes (neuroplasticity). A foundational step is the expressive writing, which creates space
Creating structure to organize your life lowers your stresses. You see them more clearly and make better proactive decisions. It also creates some “space” and perspective. If you can’t see all the aspects of a problem, it is harder to solve. Then you can create small behavioral changes that become habitual.
While an important aspect of this journey out of pain is to learn and adopt an organizational system, at the same time it seems overwhelming. So, the first step is to “do something” – anything. You may not have the energy to figure out what you really want at this point. But just get started.
Start small – very small. I presented a template of a personal “business plan” earlier in this leg of the journey. You may have felt that you don’t have the bandwidth to do this or you just can’t do it. Don’t worry about it. Just do something (anything) to start the process. Here are some suggestions and whatever works for you is the key.
- Take piece of paper every morning and write down one optional goal of something you want to accomplish. Just one. It may as simple as staying out of bed for 15 minutes longer than normal.
- Then write down five things you might do to create more order in your life.
- It might resemble your normal to-do list, but it is a more thoughtful set of actions.
- One of the “to do” items could be creating some time for your self-care.
- What routine might you create to center yourself and connect with the day – with or without your pain?
Evolution of the process
The personal business plan will evolve at some point. As you begin to change your behaviors and heal, your energy will increase.
- Sit down and do a “brain dump.”
- Don’t try to organize it.
- Over time you can begin to “sculpt” and refine it.
- Take time out of the equation. It will only create anxiety–and more pain.
- Try to avoid in making massive changes. You will only become frustrated when you can’t achieve lasting change.
Be kind to yourself
You will “fail” many times in this process except it is not failure. It’s life. If you look at the Dynamic Healing model, we know that on some days, your stresses are overwhelming, or your nervous system is on high alert from lack of sleep. You will quickly go into flight or fight physiology and not feel great. Your pain usually increases. It is easy to be self-critical in that you were not able to accomplish what you “should” be doing. “Should” thinking is one of David Burn’s ten cognitive distortions2 that drains your energy. Simply recognizing the distortion will allow you to let it go and move on.
Whatever you do, get back to the place where you can separate from your self-critical voice (can’t control it), and treat yourself with the respect and compassion that you deserve.
Since your body’s first responsibility is to keep you alive by being alert for danger, it is the powerful default program of your brain. I refer to this process as having a “personal brain scanner.”
You cannot go from reactive to creative without utilizing repetition to change the subconscious brain. Just having a vague idea of what you want to create is the starting point. Your brain will continue to develop and evolve wherever you place your attention, similar to learning any new skill. The skill you want to acquire is how to live an enjoyable life and it doesn’t happen by continually trying to fix your prior one. Consistently considering what you really want out of life and steadily working towards it is one of the most critical aspects of breaking loose from the grip of chronic pain. But be nice to yourself when you “fail.”
Questions and considerations
- Do you ever wonder why it is so difficult to live up to your best intentions? It’s because there is a gross mismatch between your rational brain and powerful subconscious one.
- Your subconscious brain is the product of a lifetime of programming. Most of us were not provided methods of how to program our nervous system in the direction we desire.
- Remember that your hopes and dreams are a rational construct that cannot be manifested without embedding implementation tools into your subconscious brain.
- It is also the reason we can rarely keep New Year’s resolutions. We are mentally taking on a lot without a process to bring them alive.
- People will sometimes make dramatic and lasting changes in response to a major crisis. You don’t need to wait for that to happen in order to move forward.
- Take control of your life now with persistent small steps and let your brain evolve in the direction you choose.
- Eisenberger NI, et al. An experimental study of shared sensitivity to physical pain and social rejection. Pain (2006); 126:132-138. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2006.06.024
- Burns David. Feeling Good. Harper Collins. New York, NY, 1999.