Did you know that monkeys are better at adapting to change than humans? I’m not kidding. A behavioral study from Georgia State University found that monkeys outperformed humans in various tests of cognitive flexibility.
Between the two, monkeys were more open to switching to efficient strategies to achieve their goals. Humans, on the other hand, were quick to resist new ideations and would rather stick to old approaches.
When it comes to embracing change, I guess it is safe to say that there is much we can learn from monkeys. But since I do not claim to know about what goes on inside a monkey’s head, here is a growing body of research that can explain human cognitive abilities extensively instead.
Before you beat yourself up for not sticking to an exercise routine in the mornings, consider the process of homeostasis. Much of your resistance to change can be explained here.
Derived from the Greek words for “same” and “steady,” it is the state in which humans actively maintain fairly stable conditions that are necessary for survival. You know how your body magically adapts to different temperatures just to keep you alive? You have homeostasis to thank for that.
Now because intense physical activities result in palpable changes in heart rate, metabolism, and respiration, in an effort to maintain homeostasis, your body actively resists these changes. So the next time you’re so hard on yourself, think that your body just means well. Sometimes, even at the expense of a good physical workout.
Another explanation could be that the different areas of your brain are literally at odds with each other. While routine behaviors are already wired in your brain, introducing new behaviors requires much more effort.
This is because any type of change, like adopting a new physical activity, is the responsibility of a separate region known as the neocortex. This is the area that oversees your decision-making abilities. Since working out is not a routine behavior for your body yet, you have to always consciously decide to do it. That takes effort.
This is why it is easy to fall back into default behaviors because changes send signals that go against the neural pathways that are already automatic for you.
The challenge, then, is to go against the biological functions of your body. You can do this by simply choosing to commit to change until it sticks.
You must practice self-awareness whenever your mind and body are resisting change. You can use this awareness as leverage instead of expending energy in fighting it.
Your awareness can also help you try to take in the change positively. Psychological research has proven that behavior ultimately informs attitude. By behaving that change is a good idea, you eventually embody this belief, thereby making it easier to adapt to a routine.
Lastly, it is okay to struggle. In fact, forgive yourself when you do. What matters is that you consciously and deliberately plan on moving forward, despite the struggles. Better yet, actively struggle. This implies that, at least, you are still working diligently in making it happen, and nothing can deter you.
Just remember that getting started is the hardest part. When you overcome it, the rest is easy.