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Mastering the Inner Elephant

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a blog by Joanne Verkuilen, Founder, Circle+Bloom, December 23, 2010

In my last blog post on surviving the holidays with infertility, I talked about how to institute a new habit that could change your life. The expression of gratitude makes you happy, stronger, resilient — and when you feel that way in your mind, your body responds accordingly. And the great news is that when you are happier, you actually get even more happy because of the wonderful thing called a feedback loop. Positive thoughts create positive physical changes which create positive thoughts....

This leads me to this post, where I would like to suggest ways to make real and lasting change in your life starting in the new year. Speaking from experience, I know intimately how difficult it is to say that you are going to change in certain ways, and then actually make it happen. What could be harder?

Why Change Is Hard

But it's important to ask WHY — why is change so hard? The CEO part of our brain makes these very lofty decisions without hesitation, but then our actions say otherwise. What is going on inside our noggin that makes this happen? And this is such a universal phenomenon, there is no denying this is a human trait. It's not just you being lazy!

Chip and Dan Heath, co-authors of a great book called Switch, How to Change Things When Change is Hard, write about this uniquely human trait. They describe our minds as being ruled by two different systems — the rational mind and the emotional mind — which compete for control. The rational mind wants every action to be healthy and for us to have a great complexion, a great beach body and to exercise all the time. The emotional mind, the authors note, "wants that Oreo Cookie." The rational mind wants to change things to benefit the workplace or organization; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine.

Mastering the Elephant

The rational mind is our internal CEO, or the rider on top of the elephant. She who makes lofty decisions and goals in a conscious, matter-of-fact way. The emotional mind is an "elephant" guided by wants and desires that isn't thinking in a conscious manner. It's one thing to make goals, it's another to steer this enormous elephant — who really just wants to eat an Oreo — to do the right thing each and every time.

I think the answer is one of moderation, temperance, and not expecting too much too soon. It's hard to steer an enormous 800-pound elephant all the time — it's also exhausting. Work toward a middle-ground, keeping that elephant inside happy, but at the same time using your CEO skills to reach your goals.

Let us know how you master your inner-elephant to make the lofty decisions and goals that you want in life!

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