This week in the Brain BS Blog and Podcast, we will explore why we appear to prefer staying stuck over moving forward to do anything that might result in significant changes. We will choose three scenarios from my life to examine how getting stuck and unstuck can play out when we operate from default mode: personal growth, work, and marriage. We will then discuss strategies we can use to push through the discomfort that comes with initiating any sort of meaningful changes when we live a deliberate life and choose our thoughts on purpose.,
Let’s start by discussing how staying stuck pays off for us in multiple ways. And we know it does because so many of us feel and stay stuck. For beginners, we hate to feel uncomfortable, and any sort of change creates some level of discomfort. As humans with a brain, we tend to get really attached to our habits and routines and when we veer from them, it can feel scary…even dangerous to us. This stems back to the cave days when we literally had to worry for our safety if anybody did not stick with the plan. These days it is not so dramatic, but our brains don’t know that. They want us to avoid making any changes so we can thwart the uncomfortable feelings that go with that. It can feel like a relief for a long time when we are avoiding something but then inevitably it starts to feel worse the longer we avoid the changes.
Another payoff for staying stuck is we can avoid our fears of failure. We are so worried about if we can successfully make the changes we are considering and how it will play out and impact everybody, that we get up in our head and all full of fear and doubt. Instead of trying something new or doing something differently, we just fail in advance by deciding to not do it. In the immediate moment this is a solution that feels pretty good to us, but that feeling of relief does not last for long.
Something else that gets in the way of us trying to evolve or move forward is a lack of belief that we can actually be successful at making the changes we desire. There is a lack of trust in ourselves, in whoever may be trying to help us, in the Universe (God or whatever you believe) and the process. When we don’t believe that change is possible, it makes us feel bad or sometimes even hopeless and powerless. We are not inspired to step up and make big changes, when we are feeling this way. In fact, it keeps us in the same old behavior and rut that is causing us so much suffering.
So the last point I want to make about staying stuck is that in order to tolerate our frustrations and disappointment with ourselves, we often times resort to vices to numb our feelings and desires. We can do this with alcohol, food, shopping, porn, Netflix, self-help, whatever. You name it and us humans will do it if it can distract us from the fact that we are stuck or have a problem. It makes it too easy to be in denial about everything. Sure, we might not come close to living up to our potential, but that is okay. We can fool ourselves into thinking life is just fine the way it is because in a perverse way that feels safe and cozy.
Okay, so now let’s discuss how we can start to feel stuck, choose to stay stuck and what might typically get us moving forward within the context of personal growth. When I was in my late 30s, I was single and there was no man in sight. I felt lonely, hopeless, and depressed. I thought that I would never find somebody because either God wanted me to be alone or there was something wrong with me. I spent years looking for evidence to support both those thoughts. I stayed stuck in that way of thinking for almost a decade. At the time, I did not realize that my thoughts were optional, I thought they were factual. I did not realize that I would one day find an amazing husband and never be lonely again. I just stayed stuck in my pain and suffering. The ONLY thing that got me unstuck was that I changed the way I was thinking by chance. I had enough suffering and one day decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and actually do something about it. I picked up the book Seat of the Soul in 1996 and that began my introduction to spirituality and living a deliberate life. Usually, when we are living from our subconscious and in automatic mode, it is pain that gets us unstuck because we just can’t take it anymore and we are desperate for relief. That is usually when we pick up that first self-help book. When that doesn’t work, we hire a therapist or a coach to help us finally try to make meaningful changes. Our brain will keep kicking in and try to stop us every chance it gets because it does not want us to change the way we are thinking. It will make us think we don’t have time to invest in our personal growth, that we don’t have the money, and that it is not going to work. Most of the time we do not realize that our thoughts are brain BS and not in our best interest. We don’t understand that if we keep listening to our ego, we will most likely sabotage ourselves over and over and keep us stuck.
Let me give you a less personal example of how being stuck in personal growth can play out. We might be feeling a lot of pain, but we have figured out how to keep it at bay. That might include overindulging in food or alcohol or anything that numbs us. When we do not resort to those vices, we might feel so much pain that we are inspired to sign up for a free consult with a coach or make that call to get started with therapy. Of course, being a human with a brain, that triggers a feeling of being unsafe, so we take a step backward instead of taking the step forward that we so desperately need. We either cancel or just don’t show up for the appointment. We just don’t believe in ourselves or that the process can work for us because we believe we are too messed up. This happens frequently to me as a coach and if I did not understand it so well, I might take it personally. Suffice it to say, sometimes it takes multiple attempts and increasing pain to finally follow through and do what is best for us when we are not living consciously or managing our minds effectively. We do not have to make this a problem. It is all part of the process that comes with change.
Okay, let’s talk about how we can get stuck professionally. When I was working in restaurants after high school, it did not take long to get sick of complaining customers and one’s who did not tip! I knew that I was capable of so much more, but I loved the fast money and having a job that did not require me to sit at a desk or computer. I also had lots of flexibility and the ability to go on vacations whenever I saved up enough money and took time off (unpaid of course). Another important factor was that I was terrified of the prospect of college because I did not think I was smart enough to pass the classes. I finally came to a point that I hated being a waitress so much, I had to do something different. As a result of being stuck and afraid, I did not start college at Youngstown State University until I was 27 years old, and that was after I applied to two colleges in two other states previously. This is what it looks like to get stuck in a job or profession and how we often get unstuck when we are not managing our minds in a way that serves us. It can take way longer to move forward.
Another example of getting stuck professionally happened after I married my husband. I went from working a full-time job with 3 part-time weekend gigs, to working three days a week as an occupational therapist. Eventually, I went from working 3 days, to becoming a registry therapist, which meant I could make my own schedule and only work when I was inspired. Well, I did that for about 8 years, and gradually I worked less and less. I was most definitely in a rut, but I had no idea what else I wanted to do, so I stayed there. I became unsatisfied with my work but was afraid to give up my freedom for another job. I was so worried about what I would lose if I made a job change, that I did not even consider everything that I might gain. I am not kidding you; I walked this fence for years and I felt terrible about myself for that. I beat myself up for being lazy and not doing anything meaningful with my time. I judged myself mercilessly and criticized myself over everything. I knew I was not living up to my potential and it was weighing on me. It was finally when my dad died and I could not take the pain anymore, that I was inspired to sign up for a doctorate program in occupational therapy and get out of my rut. If only I knew then, what I know now! If I would have been kinder and more loving to myself, which would have inspired me to make a change way quicker. I now know that pain is the trigger for many people to make a change, but that is just because they are living unconsciously and not managing their minds deliberately.
Let’s take a look now at getting stuck in marriage, because that can cause a rut with a capital R! We see it so often that couples stay together who would be way better off on their own or with a different partner. There are so many variables that keep them together, but the primary ones that stand out to me are worrying about what other people might think of them, concerns about breaking up the family and dealing with two households, financial considerations, fear of being on their own, and inability to trust the process that they will land on their feet and life will be better. Many times, it takes meeting a new potential partner before they are ready to initiate the possibility of making a change and splitting up because then it is too painful to stay with their spouse. However, many choose to stay in the marriage and cheat on their spouse because they are so terrified of making such a big change. Some don't cheat, they just stay in misery. It usually takes years of turmoil and suffering for a couple to finally decide to call it quits.
So what is the common denominator in all of these scenarios? When we are not living consciously, we usually are not inspired to make any big changes without experiencing significant pain and suffering for prolonged periods of time. It does not have to be this way. We can save ourselves needless suffering by waking up and learning how to choose our thoughts on purpose. This is critical because we know that thoughts create feelings, and those lead to actions to give us our results. If we want to make changes in our lives, we must change the way we are thinking. That’s it. It is pretty simple but not always easy because we then have to experience the uncomfortable emotions that come with change and growth. If we are self-aware enough, we understand that this kind of discomfort is way better than the kind that comes from being stuck and miserable. Bottom line is that once we decide to live a deliberate life and learn how to manage our minds to get what we want, we do not have to experience pain to make meaningful changes in our lives.
In conclusion, our brains do not like change. They want us to keep everything the status quo and not make any significant changes because they find it threatening. Therefore, as humans, we often prefer to stay stuck over moving forward until it becomes so painful, we cannot take it anymore. This is what usually leads to following through with personal growth, switching that job we hate, and maybe walking away from that spouse because we no longer want to be invested in our marriage. However, it is not necessary to go through all that pain if we choose to live a deliberate life and learn how to manage our minds effectively. When we approach life from that perspective, we can make changes in our lives by choosing our thoughts on purpose to create whatever results we want. Join me in the Brain BS Podcast to discuss this further.