Ever notice how you can almost let your car drive itself down a dirt road, one which you’ve travelled everyday for years? The grooves have become so worn and deep that the tires just follow right along. You can sit back, turn on the tunes, and enjoy the ride. The only thing you have to do is press on the accelerator or brake once in a while..
But what if you want to take a different route? What if you don’t want your car to take you down that same old grooved road? What if you decide on a different destination? Well, then, that will take three things, and they all will require effort for quite a while before your car doesn’t automatically drive itself down those old grooves.
That’s the way those old, pesky habits work. The neuropathways in our brains become so deeply grooved over the years that we literally, without thinking, without much awareness at all, do stuff. The stuff we’ve always done. The way we’ve always done it. And this is especially true if that “something” brings pleasure or averts pain. That’s because we’re designed to #1: move away from pain, and #2: move toward pleasure. So, how do we create healthier patterns of accomplishing this? No, we don’t install a GPS. That would be too easy, and it wouldn’t work. Changing those old patterns will require attention, intention and action. The hard part is repetitively paying attention, reminding ourselves of our new intention, then taking an action that is different than that our old habits want us to take. Remember, the pain is in having to make the effort to change the pattern, and the pleasure, which is not immediate, is the end goal and it will happen, provided we persist.
How do you become a great writer? You write, and write, and write, and write. Even when you don’t want to.
How do you become a great violinist? You practice, and practice, and practice, and practice. Even when you don’t want to.
How do you stop smoking? You don’t smoke, and you don’t smoke, and you don’t smoke, and you don’t smoke. Even when you want to.
Forget those old things you’ve read about neuroplasticity, and how it takes about 21 days to form new neuropathways. Try more like six or twelve months. And know that’s the way it is, and if you are persistent with your attention, intention and action, new ways of doing things will prevail.
Remind yourself, when you get discouraged, how long it took to form those deep grooves in that dirt road, those grooves that your car tires just follow along, allowing you to lapse into nearly complete unconsciousness. That’s fine, if you’re a robot. But if you want to have choice in your life, living unconsciously doesn’t work well.
It takes attention to note the tires have slid back into the old grooves, a reminder of your intention to steer your tires in a different path, followed by action to take control of that steering wheel and make those tires turn onto a different path. It will take time, but if you persist, you’ll find you’ve created many different options, many possible destinations, and you’ll be consciously in control of where you are going.
©Janet Mitchell, May 2012.