Sunday, April 29, 2007

Our Brains Make Change Hard

"Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others." -- Jacob M. Braude

Personal change is very hard to do. There are many times I try to do things differently. However, it's always easier to revert back to old habits versus maintaining the new state. Based on reading I have been doing, we are genetically wired do what we know how to do.

We all have preferred talents on which we depend. This is the premise of a book Discover your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham. For whatever reason ( e.g. - parental training, childhood experiences, learning styles, etc.), one will choose to use preferred approaches and have tendencies to achieve certain outcomes. Knowing and focusing on one's talents can help enable effectiveness and help understand what can be done to create change.

The book also includes a questionnaire to help one identify the top five talents. I found the questionnaire results very insightful and very accurate. The results consistent with what I feel are my strengths and my development areas.

Pattern recognition is a major technique used by our brain. How do we know something is what it is? Why does practice and repetition improve our performance? One reason is that the brain uses a highly effective pattern recognition process to quickly analyze what one perceives. It's the reason that all of us recognize that a new animal is a dog even though we haven't see that specific breed of dog yet. Pattern recognition is applied to all aspects of our life, including personal finance. The brain looks for patterns we have already seen and it does not know the one's we have not seen.
A good book I have read on this topic is On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. The author does a very good layman's explanation of the concept.

The brain tends to automate many activities instead of thinking. Many of the activities the brain controls is reflex or automatic - e.g. heart beating, breathing, walking etc. We notice the automatic nature of our brain in our habits. I tend to drive the same way to work, almost on autopilot. I pronounce words the same each time. I have the basically the same wake up and go to bed routines.

Effectively, the tendencies of our brains mean we have a tremendous uphill battle to change the status quo in our brains and then effectively maintain that change. For me, it explains why only teaching personal finance techniques, without additional reinforcement or emotional help, won't succeed. The technique is only half the battle. The other half is overcoming the tendencies of the brain.

To illustrate, let me ask everyone to do a simple change. Try for a moment to write a sentence with your non-writing hand. Although, we all know how to use a pen, the shapes of the letters, and the desired outcome, most of us find it difficult to simply change hands when we write. Inevitably, all of us will switch back to our current writing hand.

What I Try To Do

I am the first to admit that I find adapting to change as challenging as the next person. While I don't have the definitive answer, here are some approaches I have to help myself change.

Recognize change will take extraordinary effort in most cases. If effective change was easy, we'd all be making the major changes needed. Be ready to do more thinking, looking for new patterns, and leveraging one's strengths in different ways. Also, try to focus on a limited number of changes at the same time.

Set a goal and plans to achieve that goal. A goal that is different than the current reality which causes one's brain to break from it's normal habits. The brain recognizes one must do something different to achieve the change. A goal and plans helps keep one focused on making the change. Here are our family's goals and plans.

Track progress. I find tracking specific measures versus our goal helps keep me on track by making the brain actively think about the plan and avoid reverting to old habits. I do this through our quarterly review of our Wealth Building Ratios. When I'm on track, I feel good that the plans are work. When I'm off track, I begin thinking about what adjustments are needed, if any.

For more on New Beginnings, check back every Sunday for the next segment.

This is not financial advice. Please consult a professional advisor.

Copyright © 2007 Achievement Catalyst, LLC

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