Compass Resource for Why You Do the Thing You Don’t Want To Do
“…I am not able to do the things I want; and at the same time, I do the things I despise. But now I am no longer the one acting—I’ve lost control… I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do.”
Apostle Paul, parts of Romans 7:15-19 (VOICE)
Behavior Change and the Brain
Neuroplasticity research has given the world a new way of seeing human potential. The brain isn’t fixed as we once thought. It is dynamic. Dr. Norman Doidge described it this way in The Brain that Changes Itself: “The brain… is not an inanimate vessel that we fill; rather it is more like a living creature with an appetite, one that can grow and change itself with proper nourishment and exercise.”
Paul called us to renew minds daily (Romans 12:2) which implies consistency. For growth and change to take place, repetition is the key. Consistently repeated actions produce long-term changes in our mental patterns. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Repeated thought or activity creates new neural pathways that ultimately change our mind and behavior, either for good or bad.
Dr. Doidge calls the dark side of neuroplasticity the “plastic paradox.” The same brain rewiring that help us become master a behavior through practice and become more like Christ through consistent spiritual disciplines also enables our chains to behaviors that we don’t want to do. A mind left untrained and untamed will result in negative habits for our defaults.
In fact, at the cellular and molecular level of our brain, we even record our unwanted thoughts. Every time we break integrity with ourself by thinking about something that is outside of what we truly value, it is recorded at the cellular and molecular level in our brains. We may not remember it, but our brain does. And if not addressed, it makes it easier for us to break integrity with ourselves next time the opportunity presents itself.
We decide we are committed to not engaging in the behavior. But when we think about it, linger near it, when we put ourselves in the arena of the behavior, or when we remember the pleasurable or pain-relieving moment of the behavior, we are burning a neural pathway.
In fact, the toughest rewiring is the one we have created through consistently making the same decision and engaging in the same behavior. You had thoughts that lead to your decision to get “close to the flames” and then engaged in the behavior. “Neurons that fire together, wire together” and you get stuck in repeating a behavior that you do not want to do.
If what you’ve been doing about it isn’t working, try something new. Take a chance on looking at it in another way. Over 6,700 souls have found a break in the default behavior they despise that has become their deep neural pathway. On our transformational men’s and women’s weekend retreats, they experience deep truth and grace in such a way that a new neural pathway out of their chains is forged. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” It is reinforced in continual group and coaching post-weekend to deepen until the new way becomes the default pathway.