It’s REALLY Hard!!
Have you ever seen that video about a dude trying to UN-learn how to ride a normal bicycle and teach himself to ride what he is calling a ‘backwards bicycle’.
The basics of the story are:
- This dude is an engineer.
- His colleagues created the backwards bike and bet him he couldn’t ride it.
- The handlebars of the bike had been adjusted so when you turned the handlebars to the left the wheel would turn to the right, and vice versa.
- In this engineer’s mind, because he had been riding a normal bike for 25 years, and he understood from a mechanical perspective what was different with this bike, he should be able to ride the backwards bike relatively easily.
What he discovered in the process was that he couldn’t ride it easily, he actually couldn’t ride it at all!! He was really surprised and extremely frustrated by this. In his mind, because he had a cognitive understanding about how to ride a bike – 25 years of experience to be exact – and the knowledge of what had been adjusted on the bike and therefore what he’d have to adjust in his riding technique, that it should be a relatively easy thing for him to figure out.
He ended up taking on the challenge of learning how to ride the backwards bike and committed to practicing five minutes every day until he learned how to ride it. Any guesses how long it took him to figure it out? It took him 8 months – EIGHT MONTHS!! – of consistent, daily, focused practice to make it happen – to learn how to ride that bike.
Now you may be saying to yourself: “OK… nice story and what the heck does this have to do what we usually talk about here??”
Great question!! Let me tell you!!
What I know is that one of the biggest road blocks people encounter when they’re working on making changes in their lives, is the frustration that comes along with why they can’t make an over night shift in behaviour.
So often a person will learn something new (like maybe: a new and more effective way of communicating about challenging topics, how to identify and hold effective emotional boundaries, how to say ‘No’, how to start tough conversations, or even how to identify emotionally healthy people to engage with in relationships to name just a few) and then they will get extremely frustrated with themselves when they revert back to the ‘old’ behaviours they don’t want to do anymore.
I thought this real-life tangible explanation demonstrated in the video was a brilliant way to reaffirm for you that any time you’re making a change to behaviour (especially ingrained, long-term, life behaviours) it’s going to take time for things to sink in. IT TAKES. TIME!!
Give Yourself A Break
You are physiologically designed to maintain homeostasis; basically your ‘human-being-system’ is designed to do what’s necessary to maintain equilibrium or stability. That means avoiding change and figuring out how to get things ‘back to normal’. Part of that includes developing neural pathways that tell your brain and body how to behave given certain external stimulus.
Take for example the very basic example of eating dessert… (I love dessert… sigh) Let’s say that for most of your life you’ve been eating dessert after dinner every night. This could be anything from a piece of licorice to Crème Brulee… but more often than not, you have something sweet after dinner. And then let’s say, you decide you want to lose some weight for a bunch of ‘really good’ health related reasons. Maybe you even had a heart attack and your doctor has been über clear with you that you need to reduce your weight if you want to reduce your risk of another one.
Clearly losing some weight is a good and important idea, and yet… it’s a lot easier in the model in your mind than it is in the reality of your life.
Have you ever tried to do something like that?? Have you struggled at all? Of course you have. Why? Because you’re working to change a pattern (or neural pathway) that’s been reinforced for most of your life!
Think about a neural pathway like a pathway in the woods; a pathway in the woods that’s had a lot of traffic is really easy to pick out and follow. Let’s say something happened to the original pathway: maybe wildlife preservation officers have suggested human traffic is interfering with wildlife habitat and a new pathway needs to be created. If you were to try and make a new pathway, it would be challenging to pick out exactly the same path a second and third time wouldn’t it? It would take something to keep trying to create a new pathway – especially if the old one is clearly visible and functional… stable.
Even if you can cognitively ‘get’ that there’s a better way of doing things, it will take time for that ‘better way’ to occur as a viable option instead of something that disrupts the system.
So what does all of that have to do with developing new behaviours around things like:
- Effective communication
- Knowing your boundaries
- Setting emotional boundaries or limits
- Saying ‘No’
- Starting tough conversations
- Staying out of the ‘drama triangle’
- Avoiding emotionally unavailable people
Fair question for sure…. And… Basically it’s all the same thing! You’re working on developing new neural pathways that disrupt the system. What I can also tell you is that stopping yourself from eating dessert every night is an easier thing to plan for and implement in your life than dealing with your internal reactions around your interpersonal interactions.
With dessert you can easily determine: are you eating it or not. If you eat something sweet after dinner then you’re eating dessert. If you don’t then you’re not. You can plan for it by not having any available at your house! You can enroll the people you’re going out to dinner with in not sharing dessert with you. With something like dessert you have the luxury of planning ahead and knowing when you’re going to be dealing with trying to find your new neural pathway. Kinda like the engineer practicing for 5 minutes every day; he knew when he was going to be practicing and could prepare his brain for what was happening.
When it comes to things like how you respond to conflict, a lot of the time you have to wait until you’re in the face of conflict. Same deal with everything else on that list… you kinda gotta be in it before you can see whether you’re taking the new pathway or not. You can do all the talking and prepping for it you want. You can even practice the new skills ahead of time. And when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road, or you to hit the new pathway, it can be challenging to remember that you’re going down a new route instead of the old one.
That is really frustrating and challenging for people!! Of course it is!! And this is when it is more important than ever to give yourself a break. Just like when you were learning to ride a bike, you had to take time to figure it out; you’ll have to give yourself the same grace when it comes to figuring out this stuff too.
So the reason I decided to write this post was to remind you that getting yourself on the new pathway really takes something!! It goes against everything you’re biologically predispositioned to do!! You need to give yourself a break and pat on the back for getting in the trenches in the first place.
Things to remember when you’re working on changing some of your patterns:
- This will take time, be gentle and patient with yourself.
- The clearer you are about what success will look like, the easier it will be for you to determine how you’re doing in the process of making change.
- Trying to do too many shifts at once can be a challenge. I often encourage people to start practicing the new behaviours in places/ relationships where they’ll likely be supported without a lot of push back first. It gives you a chance to test out some of your ideas and new actions to see how they work.
- The longer you’ve been doing something, the more challenging it will be to fix the problem. The engineer in the video had his son try out the backwards bike. His son had only been riding a bike for 3 years and it took him 2 weeks to figure out the backwards bike….
- Whenever you decide to start working on something like this, the first thing that you’ll notice will be all the places that ‘it’s’ not happening… it will seem like you’re failing everywhere and you can’t get anything right. That’s a natural part of the process and in truth nothing’s really changed, you’re just that much more cognizant of the ineffective behaviour.
Making change of any kind can be really challenging, especially on your own. If you’re thinking you’d like to make some changes in your life but you have no idea where to start, maybe it’s time we chatted? Hit me up for a free consult and let’s see how we can get you started!!
If you’d like to watch the Backwards Bicycle video click the link below:
How’re You Doing?
I love hearing from my readers! If this was interesting, helpful, or hit home, feel free to leave a comment below or contact me privately!
Not yet part of the blog notification list and you want more great articles like this? CLICK HERE get on the weekly mailing list!
Spread The Word:
Don’t hesitate to forward this to a friend or share on your favourite social media platform or forward to a friend by clicking the buttons below! Share the knowledge!