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What would I be without my routine……

Some days I arrive at my office and can’t really remember much about the trip. My “autopilot” is something I appreciate. My drive allows me time each day to think through a problem and/or a solution to a problem.

As a self-proclaimed “creature of habit”, I love routines. They allow me to implement my “autopilot” freeing up cognitive energy. And yes, routines are great for this very reason. That is, until you want to grow.

Neuroplasticity is the process of how the brain builds new neural networks (aka: learns). This process is dependent on new experiences.

Here is the problem. New experiences require going outside a perceived “comfort zone”. It means giving up the “routine”. For some people this is invigorating. For others, it can be debilitating. And for most people, we fall somewhere in the middle.

All that said, I was recently discussing goals with a patient when I heard something that made my ears perk up…

“These goals may not be possible, but I know if I keep working towards them, I will continue to get better.”

You see, this person is several years out from a massive stroke. He lives alone, drives, and always arrives at his sessions eager to take on a new challenge. So, when we sat down to set some new goals, I was not surprised that he would have a list in hand.

At the same time, I was intrigued by how he stated it. Here is what I heard…… I know I have a huge challenge ahead of me. And I know that even if I work hard at this goal, I might not achieve it (it is a big goal). But I know that if I keep working at it, at the very least, I will continue to improve.

How many things do we avoid because we don’t want to feel a certain feeling or emotion?

Unpredictability is uncomfortable.

Uncertainty is uncomfortable.

The thought that you might be “disabled” forever is uncomfortable.

But here is the reality…. uncomfortable thoughts and emotions are the key that unlocks the door to growth.

Here is the other reality…

You may not achieve your goal.

You might not get out of debt.

You might not find a job.

You might not find a life partner.

You might not get pregnant.

You might not be “cured”.

Your family member might not forgive you.

Depending on your circumstances and stage of life, one of the above thoughts might make you feel uncomfortable. The easy thing to do is abandon the goal, avoid the “uncomfortable” conversation, ignore the bank statement…etc.

Neophobia is the fear of new things. “Phobias”, generally speaking, are maladaptive coping mechanisms where the fear response is disproportionate to the actual threat. While this “diagnosis” might represent the extreme cases, I think mild forms of neophobia is a real thing holding some people back from achieving their full potential.  (Important note: if you are a functional adult human, you do not have this condition).

Here is the thing about “phobias”. Although genetics plays some role, for the most part, they are learned.

Do you want to learn and grow? Do you want to give more to your community? Do you want to give more to your family? Do you want to give more in the service of your creator?

Every thought is a new opportunity to choose a new path moving forward.

It will require stepping out of your comfort zone. It will require leaning into the discomfort of the unknown.

It will require you to make a choice. Do you avoid the uncomfortable feeling or do you lean into it?

The gentlemen I mentioned earlier is truly a 1%-er. He is continuing to improve. The “quality” of his walking is improving. His endurance is improving. His walking speed is improving. He is still setting goals. He is continuing to defy the odds. More than that, he is giving back to his community.

I have often considered “contentment” the ultimate goal in life. I believe Arthur C Brooks (Co-author of Build the Life You Want) said that contentment is when what we have matches what you think you need.  But I am conflicted with this. There are times when the negative emotion of not having something that you really want can be the gust of wind at your back that propels you forward.

I will leave you with a timeless quote that never gets old and, in my humble opinion, can never be “over-shared”…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

  • Theodore Roosevelt.