The start of a new year always seems like a great time to make some changes in our life. A fresh, unmarked calendar awaits, and for many of us, January 1st brings the intention to fill it with good stuff. Whether we’re eating healthier, exercising more, swearing less, or generally communicating better, we’ve got every intention of doing The Thing, whatever it is.
But after a certain amount of time, it seems like The Thing, whatever it was, didn’t stick.
It turns out there’s a lot more to forming a new habit than just doing it. But wait… it’s actually nothing more than just doing it. Because the change that sticks, where the change is really cemented into habit, happens in your brain… in your physiology.
It’s pretty much up to you to just hang on while it happens.
Your Own Signature Cocktail
Your secret sauce is found in the things you do every day, quite literally.
You may have heard it said that your body will take the shape of whatever you do to it most often. So if you exercise a lot, you probably look fit. If you skip leg day all the time, that too is probably apparent. Smokers look like smokers. Sun worshipers, they look exactly like that. Michael Phelps has a swimmer’s body, and Christiano Ronaldo has the signature body of a footballer, because these are the things their bodies do most often.
Your brain is exactly the same way, and though your body may be doing the things, it’s your brain that actually generates the secret sauce. Your body runs the mile, but your brain releases the endorphins. And a body that runs, versus one that doesn’t, will have different levels of endorphins running through it. Different chemical levels entirely, across the board. It literally feels different to be me versus you. None of us are having the same experience as another person, ever.
Many different ingredients go into this secret sauce… the chemical cocktail that your brain creates, that makes your experience uniquely yours: the quality (and quantity) of food you eat, the health of your relationships, the satisfaction level that you experience with your work, etc. All of these things, and plenty more, contribute to your brain’s chemical response to your body’s lived experience.
What does this have to do with forming new habits, and making changes?
When you upset the brain’s chemical response by doing something different, there will be blowback. It will feel wrong to you, because your secret sauce levels are being messed with. The recipe is changing.
An accessible way for many people to look at this is with alcohol. It is a fact that when you consume alcohol you are changing the chemical cocktail flowing through your brain. I mean, that’s precisely why we do it. If you go out for Happy Hour at 5pm every day after work, your brain is going to start craving that cocktail at 5. If you don’t go out one day, it’s going to feel weird to you. At 6pm, your secret sauce is not going to be what it usually is, and you are definitely going to register that. It will make an impact.
If you have ever had a hangover, this is your brain literally experiencing withdrawals, because the secret sauce recipe you used last night was sooooooo strong that your brain is having a tough time reaching equilibrium again.
So, if you want to make a meaningful change in your life, one that’s going to actually stick, you have to let your brain create a new sauce for it. Give it time. You have to let yourself be uncomfortable while the change takes place.
“You” Are In There With Your Brain
Who are you?
You may have heard the phrase “you are not your thoughts”. Perhaps you even thought it was kind of cheesy (it is), but what if you knew that it was true?
I’m here to tell you that you are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts.
Think about it: who is hearing you read these words right now? It’s you. Your brain is processing the information, and broadcasting it, to you. So, you aren’t your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts, and this is where literally all of your power resides: the ability to decide who and what you are going to be. The understanding that you’re watching the change happen; it is not happening to you.
By understanding that your brain mixes up the cocktail that your body experiences, and that none of this has a thing in the world to do with “you”, there is leverage. At any point in time, you can choose to be someone and do something different. Literally right now, you can make a change. The sooner you do it, the sooner your brain can get started on the new formula, and the sooner that change is integrated into your physiology.
Step 1: Just Do It
Am I basically telling you that fake it til you make it is a thing? I am.
Thoughts become things, very real things in all kinds of different ways, but first the thought has to move to action. You just have to do it. Decide you’re going to get in shape, and then start taking steps to get there. Resolve to go back to school, and then take the first step.
Decide the thing, then do the thing.
Of course I am simplifying this a lot. There are all kinds of things you must do to help ensure your success when making changes in your life, not the least of which is assess all the potential roadblocks you’ll come across on the way. It’s a fact that we can boost our happiness and satisfaction with our performance where attaining goals is concerned, if we can be aware of and plan for all the things that will try to hamstring us.
For purposes of this conversation, the one big roadblock to your success is the time it will take, and the discomfort involved, in the reformulation of your sauce. Understanding that changes are made on an outward level first… I go running now, or I follow a vegetarian diet now… but it takes a bit for your biology to catch up with you. It takes a little while for your body to take the shape of whatever you’re doing to it, and for the new sauce to begin flowing.
When making changes and forming new habits, it takes a little while for it to stop feeling wrong. You have to resist the urge to make the discomfort of change go away. The way out of the discomfort, is straight through it.
Step 2: Just Keep Doing It
When you look at it this way, making any change in your life is basically just about getting really good at doing the same thing, a new something, over and over again. This is how you make the new secret sauce. The recipe is in the repetition.
Your body takes the shape of whatever you do to it most often, and so does your brain. When making changes in your life, you are literally building the brain of the person you want to be, but are not yet.
To make a good change in your life is to make a tastier sauce, but first you must get in the kitchen and start putting the new ingredients together.
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