Many of us SAY we want stability and progress.
We SAY we want to move toward our goals and values, and to avoid the chaotic ups and downs that make our lives difficult and miserable.
…and then we go and behave in ways that can’t help but sabotage our progress and stability.
Why do we do this?
It’s not, usually, because we’re stupid. There are very, very smart people who are very, very good at torpedoing their stability and progress.
It’s not, usually, because we’re unmotivated. If personal development or habit change is even on our radar in the first place, we’re usually motivated enough, especially when compared to the population at large.
So what’s going on, then?
Believe it or not, many peoples’ difficulty embracing stability and progress has to do with the fact that, well, progress and stability can be pretty boring.
If we’re making progress toward goals, that’s usually because we’ve constructed a well-thought out plan that includes intermediate goals and daily habits and rituals that will get us closer to those goals.
If we’re emotionally and behaviorally stable, it’s usually because we’ve identified those triggers that send us off the deep end, and we’ve discovered or adapted tools and skills to manage those triggers.
Stability and progress are hard work. And if we’re doing them right, they are, objectively, kind of boring.
They involve a lot of repetition.
They involve a lot of pre-planning.
They involve a lot of work when there’s no immediate payoff.
Sometimes they explicitly require us to step away from situations that are, or might, be, gratifying in the short term.
It’s all a bit of a drag…at least, from a certain point of view.
Our brains do tend to crave novelty and excitement. Look at the movies and media we, as a culture, enjoy— we like mystery, we like plot twists, we like drama.
Progress and stability are the exact opposites of mystery, plot twists, and drama.
So sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, our brains kind of go behind our backs to create mystery, plot twists, and drama…at the expense of our progress and stability.
Understand, there are neuropsychological reasons for this. It has nothing to do with intelligence, it has nothing to do with integrity, it has nothing to do with morality. Some of the best, smartest people unwittingly create drama for themselves and sabotage their progress and stability, because their brains are simply bored.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is: once we’re aware that our brains’ appetite for stimulation really is a risk factor that will torpedo our stability and progress if we let it, then we can actually do something about it.
We can short-circuit our brains’ propensity to go behind our back and make our life difficult.
We have to make sure that, even in the midst of working toward our goals and managing our emotional and behavioral stability, we’ve included enough novelty and stimulation in our lives that our brains won’t feel the need to create it on their own.
This is where interests and hobbies come in.
Sometimes patients think it’s lame when I, as the therapist, encourage them to really explore and get involved in things they like.
The truth is, I’m not telling them to get hobbies and interests simply because that’s what therapists are supposed to encourage.
I’m telling them that so their brain doesn’t get bored and restless, and sabotage all the good work we’re doing.
There’s more to the equation than hobbies and interests, certainly. In order to keep our brains from getting bored, restless, and lonely, we also have to pay attention to our time management, energy reserves, diet, relationships, and other factors.
Like most things in the arena of personal development, this problem requires a multi-modal approach.
But the first step is to acknowledge the problem— acknowledge the potential for a serious problem in constructing and reinforcing your stability and progress— and then begin, step by step, to construct a strategy to handle it.