Why Change Takes Time

By April 30, 2017 No Comments

As Demonstrated by the Story of the Backward Bike

Change is hard.  Really hard.  It takes courage.  It also takes dedication to continue trying even when it is scary or difficult.  In my psychotherapy practise, I often hear people who have started to use a new behaviour in their life say that it’s so easy to slip back in to the old way, that it takes such effort to do things in the new way and they wonder will it ever feel natural or easy.  I tell them it will, but it takes practise…. lots of practise.  It does however get easier and eventually the new way will become second nature.

This applies to all types of personal change from learning to be more assertive in life, to not letting the little voice in your head that tells you you’re not good enough to rule your day, from learning to express anger constructively to choosing not to use food, drugs or alcohol as a daily crutch.

That’s why I was so excited to see this video from Destin Sandlin of Smarter Every Day.   In the video Destin tries to learn how to ride a bicycle that has had only one change made to it.  When you turn the handle bars right, instead of going right like a regular bike, the wheel on the bike goes left.  When you turn the handle bars left, the wheel goes right.  Armed with this knowledge Destin thought it should be easy to learn how to ride this backward bike… as you’ll see it wasn’t but the learnings from Destin’s experiment are so valuable for anyone working on a personal change.

The Backward Bike shows that once you have a rigid way of thinking, sometimes you cannot immediately change even if you want to.  But it also shows that by continuing to try eventually the change happens.  This is because our behaviour is largely habitual, we tend to respond to the same situations or like situations in the same way every time and this response is usually quiet automatic.

Every behaviour uses already established neural pathways in the brain.  When we try to change behaviour the automatic tendency is to use the already existing neural networks associated with that situation.  That’s the body’s way of being super efficient.  When we choose to behave differently we have to establish a new group of neural pathways or perhaps group already existing pathways differently.  This takes time but with practise it DOES HAPPEN.

In Destin’s case it took him 8 months of 5 minutes practise a day to eventually be able to ride the backward bike. Thankfully, many changes can happen in less time but it is worth remembering that for any change you make there is a period of time where your brain is building a new network of neural pathways to support the change and your job is just to keep teaching it how to do that by repeatedly practising and attempting the new behaviour.

Enjoy the video


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