Listen, there’s a reason that “change is hard” is one of the biggest headnodders* of all time. We suck at changing our lives! This is why we continue to engage with truly terrible ideas! Here are three terrible ideas I am still engaging in on the regular:

  • Never exercising. Despite being known most of all as “that women who went from never exercising to being a triathlete,” I spend most days chilling on the couch, especially right now.
  • SUGAR. Despite being almost entirely “sugar free” because of that whole autoimmune thing last year, I bought a 5 pack of Trolls Oreos on Amazon because I NEED IT. (Yo, there are POPROCKS inside. You need them, too.)
  • Speed reading. When I get interested in a book, I become compulsively committed to finishing it.I read fast already, but I also have a setting that kicks in that is way more about finishing than savoring.Then, I’m done with my book and SO SAD it’s over. I’ve known this forever, and yet I finished “The art of inheriting secrets” in 36 hours.Errrggghhhh, so frustrating. Because now I don’t get to read it anymore! SMH.

Today is just another example of our whole lives. We know what’s up.

Said another way, we already know what we need to do differently!

So why don’t we? And why do we get so emotional when someone suggests that we could, in fact, respond differently?

Because change is hard. It’s hard, hard, hard, hard, hard.

But hard doesn’t mean impossible, or even unmanageable. Hard means effortful. We have to be strategic and understand what we are dealing with. This is where the three-part workspace model of the mind comes in.

As a reminder, the workspace of the mind has three interwoven parts, each of which can be supported to help us better manage our mind and change our lives.

Mindset: These are the lenses that fall into place and color/frame the way we interpret what’s happening to us. Fundamentally, a mindset is a pattern of beliefs. Beliefs are ingrained thoughts. And thoughts are things we can choose with effort in the moment.

Mindscape: Your brain is capable of time travel- freely moving from the past, through the present, and into the future. Your mindscape is the current (and shifting) “location” of your mind. Where in time are you choosing to spend your life? Are you choosing the present moment where your experiences are able to change, expand, contract, and adjust? Or are you projecting your mind forward in the fields of “what if” and “yeah, but” that characterizes our worries about the future? Is your mind roaming the past, worrying over painful experiences, revisiting discolored memories, and strengthening repetitive thoughts?

Mindmanager: If you’ve ever taken a cognitive development class, the mindmanager is a lot like the “central executive.” The mindmanager has a LOT to do, and most of it doesn’t involve your conscious mind. Which is to say that managing your thoughts is the least of your mindmanager’s worries. This means that when you go to engage in the effort to change your thoughts, your mindmanager is going go to resist. She will, instead, point you to familiarity.

“What’s up familiarity, you old hound dog!”

Your brain is most fundamentally designed to keep you alive.

It does so, in the purest form, by creating and re-creating familiarity.

Ah, familiarity: When I feel safe, warm, and comfortable with something simply because it didn’t kill me last time.Bliss.

The pull of familiarity is strong. It’s strong, in large part, because it’s your mindmanager’s shortcut. “Go over there and hang out with familiarity, Amanda,” she says to me, “while I take care of all this adult business.” If your mindmanager is your parent, familiarity is Nickelodeon. Mindmanager assumes it’s safe because it’s kids tv, and you are interested enough to watch, even if you aren’t that into it.

But, familiarity has a dark side (so does Nickelodeon, btw. Have you watched any of those shows?). Lots of the things that are “always around” aren’t that great for us. The sugar, the sedentary-ness, the hours and hours of watching the news, the Facebook scroll of death…It’s familiar, so we do it again and again, even though it’s draining our life force.

How do we get your mindmanager out of default, familiarity mode and into active participation?

Mindmanager thrives in BALANCE. When she’s out of whack she drops into default mode, relying on familiarity and habit rather than strategy and effort. There are two dimensions that need to be balanced if you want mindmanger to lend you a hand and help you change your life: one is passionate detachment, and the other is engaged retreat.

Passionate detachment is about your interest. Are you doing things that you care about? Are you “all in?” If yes, then you are experiencing “passion” and mindmanager is willing to get involved. However, this passion needs to be tempered with detachment from immediate, predictable outcomes or mind manager will get overwhelmed by the intensity of your reactions and fears and stick you back in front of the tv. The sweet spot in the middle of this dimension is passionate detachment and it marked by your enthusiastic engagement with the goals and and flexibility with outcomes and timelines.

Engaged retreat is the other dimension that needs to be balanced. Another word for engagement, when it’s gotten a little out of hand is “hustle.” Engagement is about hard work, persistence, and the grind. All good things… that will eat you alive if you aren’t careful. Engagement MUST be balanced with regular retreat- simple pleasures are best: sleeping, eating, downtime, and connection with loved ones.

Now, these aren’t continuums where your goal is to land at a particular place and stay there; these are planes of experience and your goal is to move freely around them. The key, actually, is to avoid getting stuck in one of the quadrants.

When you get stuck in a quadrant, you will experience one of the four-horsemen of the workpocalypse.

  • Too much engagement and too much passion? Burnout comes to call. It’s time to accept what is (detachment) and take a dang break (retreat!).
  • Lots and lots of passion but no action? Procrastination has settled in. The key for you is to lower the stakes and accept that nothing is ever going to be perfect (detachment) and then trust yourself to go for it (move into action)!
  • No passion but under the gun to perform, perform, perform? Welcome to Bored-out. Like burnout, but with glazed eyes and carpal tunnel. The key here is to develop some passion- spend some time thinking about your “why” and drawing connections between what you are trying to do and your long-term hopes and dreams. Then, force yourself back into the cycle of engaged retreat- take regular breaks!
  • No passion, no engagement? It might be time to move on, my friend. The Fizzle is hard to walk back. But, if it’s important to you then your number one goal is to generate some passion. Figure out what about this boring, disengaging situation drew you into it in the first place and build from there.

Mindmanager is willing to participate in your efforts to change your mind and pursue your goals when you orbit around the sweet spot. If you find yourself unable to gain a foothold against your own bad habits and tendencies, place yourself in the model and find your most important next step.

As I always say, your mindmanager needs to give a sh*t and be given a break.

This will help to bring your mindmanager back onto your team.

*PS- A headnodder is something people say and the rest of us need NO MORE INFORMATION before start nodding in agreement.

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.