Our brains are prediction machines. We use information from past experiences (ours and those of the people around us) to predict what’s coming next.
If the road I need to cross every day is full of speeding cars, my brain prepares my body for quick movement and alertness well before I even look to see whether today it’s busy or quiet. I am set for and expecting fast traffic.
This happens literally all the time. We go around with our past experiences loaded in our system, saving our brains the energy intensive process of perceiving and mounting a response from scratch.
If your surroundings, your habits, the people around you are the same every day, on one hand your brain is more efficient. It preloads what is needed and does not need to make too many last minute adjustments when things don’t fit the pre-loaded model.
On the other hand though, this makes change tough. Neural pathways related to our daily habits (that include how we expect people around us to act and how they expect us to) are a bit like clear, well trodden paths. Messages glide though them with no effort.
Change requires creating new pathways and reinforcing them with repetition. When your daily surroundings encourage your brain to rely heavily on these well trodden paths, moving away from them is tough.
Which is why being in new surroundings offers so many possibilities. Suddenly your brain can no longer rely on it’s easy predictions. It needs to connect different past experiences to predict the current reality. That’s a slower process that requires more observation of the surroundings and less reliance on the well trodden paths.
It’s no coincidence that you observe more while traveling. It’s also true that being around new people lets you unleash new qualities, new ways of seeing and doing things.
So while change can be tough, it’s also a window of possibility for modifying your habits, predictions, reactions and ways of showing up in the world. This week I changed my phone and used the opportunity to break browsing habits that were not serving me and that I was caught up in for months. I now need to make sure I repeat my new habits so that my brain does not find sneaky ways of creeping into easier pathways. But change definitely made that softer for me.
What are your experiences with this?