Yoga for Change Management
Why is it so hard to do something new?
So you want to practice yoga but you can’t seem to get it together? Or you want to stop being so hard on yourself but opportunities to fall into self-criticism just keep coming? You want to eat less, exercise more, get more sleep, but -
It can be downright discouraging trying to change an old habit or create a new habit like practicing yoga. Good news: you can let go of the self judgment without any guilt.
Changing habits or establishing new ones are challenges in which self criticism is essentially useless. In our brains, the problem of change is actually more like traffic gridlock where a light at an intersection is out of order.
You don’t need to build a new highway; there’s just a little something on the fritz. Fortunately, it only requires a bit of skilled attention to bring your resolve back to a state of flow.
Human beings have two separate neurological systems of evaluation.
One of these systems is described as emotionally intuitive evaluation and the other as deliberative evaluation. The activity of the two ways we evaluate everything can be seen as it occurs in our brains using fMRI.* All day long we’re occupied with calculating and balancing the merits and values of one kind of evaluation against the other as we do things and make choices.
One of the hardest things about changing things in our day to day lives is our confusion about how much weight to give how we feel in the midst of change.
When we make a resolution to do something new there’s a certain amount of momentum and excitement, even a feeling of being powerful. We act on something we know is right for us and we no longer feel helpless or confused. As that initial momentum loses speed though, our confidence experiences a challenge from the deliberative system which draws on more abstract, hypothetical “what if” reasoning.
And according to natural laws our resolve to do something differently will lose speed.
Entropy describes the loss of energy during the process of converting one thing into another, in this case, exchanging a habitual action for a novel one.
It takes less energy to do what we always do, and it takes more energy to first notice when we’re about to act habitually and then also choose to do something else. When the momentum that set us in motion with enthusiasm for change starts to fade away, we have less energy for change. Conservation is a natural physiological response to stress ( which is how we experience the loss of energy); we naturally do what takes less energy. But we can interrupt that. Noticing and interrupting are yoga.
What emerges when we stop focusing on feeling disappointed is the messy, often painful, and even funny small science of life. With yoga we can choose to experiment with our lives and choices in ways that add to our knowledge and help become more effective.
If you really want to establish a practice, or make any other change,
Notice the way you assign meaning to how you feel, that is, what you decide things mean.
The truth is, doing the new thing isn’t necessarily going to feel good, especially after the momentum fades away. However, don’t practice when you “don’t feel like it” because it’s “the right thing to do.” Do it because yoga is first and foremost an inquiry, an experiment. Don’t be passive: use your own intelligence to observe what’s happening, what works, what doesn’t.
It’s important, it’s a basic sanity, to accept our feelings as they are, and at the same time believe in the change we choose, too. Our feelings about what we find overstimulating – what we’re reactive to – aren’t likely to change overnight, or in some cases, change at all. What can and will change with our persistence is how we respond to the stimulus. That’s yoga.
It’s easier to change what we do than it is to change what we feel
Luckily because of innate human “deliberative” evaluation, we can focus on how we interpret what we feel, what we decide our feelings mean. We can choose to evaluate our feelings as natural and realize we’re doing just fine.
Feelings do, also, change. Over time and as we relate to our stimulants differently, our feelings shift naturally, not because we suppress them, judge or deny them, but because we are living life and doing actions that give rise to a new world.
Greene, J.D., Nystrom, L.E., Engell, A.D., Darley, J.M., & Cohen, J.D. (2004). The neural bases of cognitive conflict and control in moral judgment. Neuron, 44, 389–400.
An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment. By: Greene, Joshua D., Sommerville, R. Brian, Nystrom, Leigh E., Darley, John M., Cohen, Jonathan D., Science, 00368075, 9/14/2001, Vol. 293, Issue 5537
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.