Why Navigating Change is Hard

We can’t chart a brave new course until we recognize exactly where we are,
get curious about how we got there, and decide where we want to go.

– Brené Brown

A high performing leader’s job often requires a consistent, heavy dose of intensive thinking and concentration. This activity heavily taxes the mind and requires a lot of energy to function optimally. Like any strength, sometimes over-thinking can be suboptimal, and takes its toll physically, mentally and emotionally.

Many habits and behaviors have been ingrained in us for a long time. Conditioning is an automatic process where patterns of behavior and habit systems are set up in the brain in response to a stimulus that we repeat in our lives. When learning is productive, this is helpful. When learning is destructive, this is harmful.

Why is change such a challenge in the brain? Change requires several elements, including a) holding on to new information in our short-term working memory (that consumes lots of energy resources), b) a reduction of conflict with old information, c) time to allow new information to be registered and consolidated, and d) time for new information to be converted into an easy access form (like a compressed software file) that can be used with less energy. This, as opposed to just recalling old habits that have been already consolidated in easy to retrieve form.

To break habit patterns, we have to form new brain circuits that are stronger than the old ones. Attention changes the brain. If we want to change behavior, we begin to cut a new road vs. staying in the same ruts traveled. What we focus on creates connections, and paying attention will deepen the wiring.

We have to go deeper than our head to clarify what we want. Research shows there is an inextricable relationship between thought, behavior, and emotion. What we feel dictates what we think and how we behave. You cannot change behavior without emotions. Change requires us to be motivated with an emotional connection with our new choices. Emotional connection drives intention and facilitates action. When there is resistance to change, it is rarely a missing thought process. Most often it is a missing emotion.

We need to see the change, and want it. As legendary coach Lou Holtz says, “Urgency sharpens focus.” With clarity of what we want to accomplish, we’ll have urgency and desire to eliminate distractions, derailing behaviors, and limiting beliefs that are holding us back or no longer serving us.

Change is especially hard whenever we experience setbacks, failure, disappointment or loss, though that is also the space where learning and growth happens.

Our brains are wired for one thing – survival. When we experience a fall from setback, failure or disappointment, our brains assess what is happening, and seeks safety. Our brains seek a story that makes sense, gives us more certainty, and protects us from hurt. The brain isn’t interested in an accurate story but a story that keeps us safe. The danger in these stories we make up is that often they become strongly held beliefs that can help us, or sometimes limit and hinder us.

Brené Brown’s latest research, Rising Strong™, is all about the power of narrative story. When something happens, we want to disown the stories we think don’t fit us. We have two choices, 1) we can deny our story, and be defined by it, or 2) we can own our story, and write our own ending.

The Rising Strong process closely mirrors the Story Process, with three parts. The very first part is Reckoning, walking into our story being willing and courageous to 1) notice and recognize something is going on (I’m emotionally hooked or snared), and 2) get curious to know more about our feelings and how they connect with the way we think and behave. We pay attention and give ourselves permission to feel.

The second part of the Rising Strong process is The Rumble, owning our stories. We get honest about the stories we are making up about our struggle, then challenge these confabulations and assumptions to determine what is truth, what is self-protection, and what needs to change if we want to lead more wholehearted lives.

The third part is The Revolution, where process becomes practice. We write a new ending to our story based on the key learnings from our rumble, and use this new braver story to change how we engage with the world, and ultimately transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.

To learn more about Rising Strong™, come experience this applied in leadership in my Rising Strong™ for Leaders Navigating Change and Transition workshop October 21, 2016. Rising Strong™ is a unique hands on learning experience designed to have us own our stories of struggle, reckon with emotion and rumble with the challenges that come with living an authentic and wholehearted life – all in service of writing our own daring endings. It represents Dr. Brené Brown’s latest research in areas of vulnerability and shame. For more information or RSVP signup visit

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