We Become Addicted To Familiar Patterns, And That’s What Sabotages Our Lives
Think of baby elephants who are chained to trees when they are young. They remain there, even as powerful adults.
Feeling stuck is an illusion.
There is absolutely nothing that is more easy and effortless than change.
In fact, we spend most of our lives trying to decrease the amount of change that we experience, doing everything possible to stabilize, routinize and normalize as much as we can.
The reason we feel stuck is not because we are actually being pinned to our lot in life by a force beyond our control. It is because we are being subtly and subconsciously influenced to reinforce preexisting behavioral patterns.
Your brain is plastic. Even after it goes through its final growth spurt in young adulthood, your body is still an adaptive, responsive mechanism. You are forging new and strengthening preexisting neuropathways with every thought you have and behavior you engage in.
The trouble is not that we are incapable of change.
The trouble is that the most fundamental human fear is the unknown, and we are still battling that, even in our highly modernized world.
Think of baby elephants who are chained to trees when they are young. As adults, they are freed of their bindings, but spend the course of their lives hovering around their “home base.” The irony is that as they mature even just a little bit, they possess the brute force to rip the tree out from its roots and be free. But they don’t. They tried when they were babies, failed, and the optics of the chains convince them that they are still incapable.
The problem is not that we are stuck, it is that we become addicted to familiar patterns, and that’s what sabotages our lives.
When the first people who loved us also taught us that to love is to abandon, that becomes ingrained in our concept of what a relationship is. When we are only ever used to making a certain amount of money, we’ve spent that much time justifying why we aren’t capable of making more, or why people who make more are corrupt, or why we are safe and “better off” where we stand. When we have spent most of our lives having a low sense of self, we have equally spent that much time with a coping mechanism, a way to feel small and safe. We have spent that much time villanizing the people who we wish we looked or could be more like.
So when the day comes that we are ready to change, we are up against a mountain of our own doing: we have to untangle the deep associations that wreck our relationships. We have to face those fears, and then choose otherwise. We have to admit that we haven’t been as successful as we had hoped before we can do more, and become more. We have to reconcile the false beliefs we have about people who are what we secretly want to be so that we no longer fear it will be “bad” to be that way, too.
The brain is exceptional in that alongside being adaptable, it is also self-affirming. We spend most of our time unconsciously sorting through experiences and stimuli to focus solely on the information that reinforces what we already believe.
We want to be affirmed. We want to be validated. We want to be right. We want to return to the comfort and control of what we’ve known, while ascending to happiness we’ve not yet experienced.
The cruel trick of life is that so long as we are, to use the elephant metaphor again, hovering near the tree we were once chained to, there will always be a gnawing sense that we are missing out, that we are not quite doing all that we are meant to. Everyone feels this, and most suffocate it, because it would mean they must exit their comfort zone, sometimes the only one they have ever known.
You do not sabotage your life because you are stupid.
You do not sabotage your life because you don’t know what you want.
You do not sabotage your life because you are incapable.
You sabotage your life when you become addicted to familiar patterns, and then never find the strength to endure the discomfort of breaking them.