If you want to change, improve, grow...look for difference
If you’re working towards some sort of personal change or towards a particular goal, whether it's getting fit, improving mental health or even getting a new job there’s a simple concept that can shape the results you get.
It’s the difference that makes the difference
It’s the difference that helps you move you forward.
People who look for where things haven’t changed, who are wired to notice sameness, will find it more difficult to make the changes they want to make because they’re priming their brain to keep the current neuro-networks in place.
Now you may think, why is focusing on sameness such a problem? Maybe no change could actually motivate me to take more action, to do what I need to do?
What fires together wires together – Hebbs Law
Your brain is plastic, it’s changeable and while it’s possible to rewire your brain, to create new neuro networks that serve rather than hinder you, you need to be conscious of what you’re wiring together and creating. When you constantly notice where things haven’t changed the ‘old’ pathways in the brain are reinforced. You’re reinforcing the old habits and patterns rather than creating new ones.
Think of it this way. If you’re working on lowering anxiety levels with Mindfulness or CBT, but you have a tendency to focus on where your anxiety is still a problem rather than where it’s improved, you’re not wiring in the positive changes you’re making - you're not creating new neuro-pathways and building momentum.
If you’re a couple of weeks into your exercise programme and you’re beating yourself up because your jeans are still tight, the same rule applies. Rather than developing a positive habit, a new programme, you’re potentially conditioning yourself to maintain old habits.
So what can we do instead?
Notice and focus on change.
Recognise any change, no matter how small. If we use the exercise analogy think about how you feel. Perhaps you feel more positive about yourself when you go to the gym, perhaps you’re feeling stronger, less breathless, more confident in your own skin. Focus your brain on positive change and it will help you create more of it.
If you’re going through a period of personal development, you may take a small step forward followed by what feels like several steps back. But the important thing is to notice any and all the steps forward. Noticing how you’ve grown stronger, even if you’re still triggered by negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours, allows you to gradually wire in this change…and create more of it.
If you’re used to noticing where things are the same rather than where things are different this is going to take some practice because it’s likely to be a habit, an auto-pilot programme. So, use reminders on your phone or leave yourself messages around the house to get yourself off the blocks. For example, remind yourself to notice how you feel after your workout, meditation or practice session. Notice the immediate effects of taking positive action.
And remember, we can help our kids develop this life-skill by directing their attention to change rather than sameness.
“Friendships may still be tricky, but I can see you’re feeling a lot stronger and you’re making new friends. How does that feel?”
“I can see you’re frustrated, but you’ve really shown up and I can see you’ve improved this week…how does it feel to have practised every day?”
“Can you see how you’ve improved?”
Share this stuff as a family. Where are you growing, changing and improving? Start noticing the difference and see what difference it makes.