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“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau

Daily we’re bombarded with new books, videos, podcasts, conferences, news, and research about why folks behave irrationally – even when they “know” their behavior isn’t rational. We learn why affirmations, acting “as if,” “faking it til you make it” and other strategies and tactics often don’t lead to sustainable  change, and why change is so difficult even when the brain is supposed to be so “plastic,” etc. Why is true and lasting change and transformation so challenging? Here’s one perspective. See how it works for you.

The Gutter
Visualize the “gutter,” the ball return “groove,” on either the side of a bowling alley lane. Assume that at one time this “gutter” was perfectly flat. Visualize that, with guide barriers keeping the bowling ball moving in a straight line along the gutter surface, the ball consistently moves from the far end of the alley to the near end where it returns to a ball-holding area.

Over seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years, the ball begins to carve out its own pathway, and at some point no longer needs any guides to control its movement/direction. The ball now follows it’s own self-created pathway — day in and day out, night in and night out, over and over, with never a change in direction. The ball seemingly has a mind of its own. A sort of programming.

Who Carves Your Groove?
Think of the initial guide barriers on either side of the “groove” as your parents or primary caregivers, your siblings, relatives, playmates, teachers, clergy, etc. – i.e., those who “guided” you from infancy to about the five, six, seven…

And think of that “groove” as the neurological pathways, neurons, and synapses in your brain — each representing an “habitual way” of doing, be-ing, having and thinking (i.e., thoughts, beliefs, actions, assumptions, premises, expectations, “stories,” feelings, emotions and worldviews that created your orientation to, and perceptions of, your world).

Even with all the neurobiological and brain science research touting “brain plasticity,” and popular “wisdom” annotating how irrational we are in spite of our protestations to the contrary, etc. we can begin to have a glimpse of why many folks cannot or will not change.

“All appears to change when we change.” – Henri-Frederic Amiel

Re-Smoothing the Groove
In order for true, real and lasting change to occur, one of two things has to happen: (1) we have to “sand-paper” down the original grooves and/or (2) create new grooves representing new ways of do-ing, be-ing, having and thinking. Either way, both of these tasks require concerted time and effort, and more, they require commitment. And here is why “recidivism” of a sort haunts most folks who want change.

Clinging to Old Ways
What prevents most folks from carving out new grooves is that they’re wired to hang on to their original groves. They are “clinging.”

Most folks live in a “closed system” — a loyalty to our own internal reality – resistant to change. We become in the present what we became in the past., i.e., we “futurize our past.” In Buddhist terms, we are attached to this inner reality, constantly reconditioning to itself. The brain also continually generates this closed internal representation of our outer world, seeing and relating to it the same way, over and over again, even if, IN REALITY, the outer world is changing. We are stuck in our “grooves.” We become caught in an emotional and psychological attachment – to survive – to stay, i.e., be, the same in order to feel safe ands secure.

As adults, our orientation to our world is largely how we were as infants, then children, then as adolescents, as young adults…. As adults, we are our earliest “grooves.”

Be a Work in Progress
The good news is that this “stability” helped us survive and make sense of our world as infants and children. The bad news is that it locks us into seeing and reacting to our present world and experiences in similar ways over time, i.e, we are hardwired to be resistant to change.

The key to true and lasting change, from the perspective of some psychotherapists, and from a Buddhist perspective is to open the closed system in such a way that we do not view our self as a calcified, reified structure but rather as a “process” – often why many folks who do deep personal work say they are “works in progress.” They no longer identify as “I am this” or “I am that” but see themselves simply as “being” (resulting from the process of sandpapering down the old grooves, and loosening the hard, rigid identification with one’s self, i.e., “who I think I am” or “who I take myself to be.”) and creating new grooves.

Change Cannot Be Cognitive Alone
An important point here is that such change most often cannot be done through the mind, i.e., “cognitive” efforts, alone. True change needs to be processed through a conscious mind-body-spirit process — one reason why “positive thinking”-type efforts seldom produce true, lasting change and transformation. The mind alone cannot “open” it’s own closed system.

Think of the moment you wake up. That split moment. When perhaps you hear the birds communing, or notice the sky, or hear the rain, or really smell the coffee – that split moment before “thinking” kicks in. That’s the place where true change and transformation takes place. That’s the place where we are an “open system.” Here, we are not conditioned by past experiences. We are completely present to our experience, right here and right now. No brain/mind to interrupt, to interpret, to link our present moment to past experience. Once “thinking “begins, almost all (change) bets are off.

As soon as we allow this moment to become influenced by memory, conditioning, and past experience, we slide right into the old “grooves” and are taken over by past perceptions, judgments, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, emotions, etc. — back to the old ways of “I am this” and “I am that.” We futurize our past. Our history take over. Our present is experienced through our past. We are clinging.

As soon as we begin “thinking,” then all the old feeling and emotional patterns related to our thoughts also arise. The clinging process is mental, cellular, neuronal, emotional, psychological and physiological as all our old patterns, urges, needs and desires arise, often unconsciously — just as the ball habitually returns to its starting place. Clinging that reinforces our closed-system inner reality, our old, habitual self.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Clinging is the basis of resistance to change. Clinging is a survival strategy that emanates from deep, deep down in our core. In every “new” situation, we keep “re-birthing” our old, fixed self and in the process our familiar, protective ways of defending our old, familiar, resistant self also arise. This process is our “way of life.”

Presence
A process that leads one to a conscious, deeper awareness of these dynamics, a process that supports one to move into presence (where identity with “grooves’ is non-existent), where there is no need to defend, where there is no attachment to “I am this” or “I am that” is one possible way to experience true and real shift and change. The “mind” alone cannot foster such change and that’s one reason we read of so many examples of “irrationality.”

The challenge is to choose to move away from “things mental and rational” into “things spiritual” (not religious or theological, but spiritual) where we shift from identification and the need to perpetuate our conditioned or habitual self, but towards an alignment or connection to our self as we are in that moment when we wake up, in that present-time experience, before “I”/”me” kicks in.

True and lasting change is an eminent possibility. But it takes time, consciousness, striving, honesty, steadfastness, courage, strength, will and lots of love and compassion for one’s self – qualities that for many in our culture seem to be in short supply.

We can smooth out our old grooves, the “gutter” of our past, the “irrationality,” and create new grooves — but just not by 9:00 tomorrow morning – a sad realization for many enmeshed in our microwave-oriented, Twitter-connected, 15-second sound-bite, seeking-immediate-gratification culture.

“It’s not that some people have willpower and some don’t. It’s that some people are ready to change and others are not.” – James Gordon, M.D.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • On a scale of 1-10, what number describes your general feeling of impatience?
  • Do you ever reflect on how you came to be who you are, what you think or why you act the way you do? If so, what do you see about yourself? If not, are you curious as to why not?
  • Do you feel enslaved by your electronic life? Is this by choice?
  • What “old grooves” would you like to sand down and eliminate? What new groove would you like to create? Are there obstacles that prevent you from doing either, or both? How so?
  • Do you ever behave “irrationally” — do-ing or be-ing in ways you know you shouldn’t? If so, why?
  • What of your past do you cling on to? How so?
  • Can you envision a world where you feel free in most every moment, where you can let go of notions of how you “should” be and dis-identify with “I am this” or “I am that?,” where you’re not a fixed entity but a process?


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(c) 2017, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.  Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, www.truenorthpartnering.com or pvajda(at)truenorthpartnering.com

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.

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