Many of us feel powerless to make a change. We think, “I am these thoughts, I am these urges, this is who I am.” Some feel that even if they seek out treatment and improve, the fact that they have been depressed, anxious, or addicted in the past means they will always be that person, the one with the problem. Or they worry that the symptoms are destined to recur. They believe they were dealt a bad genetic hand at birth and are sentenced to a life of misery and chronic struggle. They often end up thinking, “What’s the point? I can’t beat this thing. I’ve tried before and nothing has ever worked. I might as well give up.”

This is a sad and tragic way to approach life, especially when there is so much we can do about many of our problems and challenges. Granted, we are talking about genetic vulnerabilities or predispositions, not severe genetic diseases, such as Down’s syndrome or Huntington’s disease, that cannot be altered by lifestyle changes. Several examples of genetic vulnerabilities that often come to mind include alcoholism, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. What’s most interesting —and applicable to you—is that in all of these cases, the underlying biology you were born with can be heavily influenced by how you act. In fact, there really is no distinction between many physical and psychological ailments in terms of your ability to influence your body and brain to make positive changes in your life.

Equally important, there also is no distinction in how hard it is to make those changes, even when your life depends on it. Yet people often do not make the changes, even when they know it is best for them. This is because change demands considerable effort and a strong commitment. Often, the knowledge that we need to change isn’t enough and shaming us into submission doesn’t help, either. In fact, it usually causes us to react in the opposite way: We become entrenched in our behaviors rather than liberated from them. This is perhaps the most important reason why we must never capitulate to confusing our biology with our true self. What we need instead is to use our awareness of the crucial difference between biology and who we want to be to motivate and empower us to truly believe we are in control of our lives and our health.

The key to succeeding, then, is not merely education and fear tactics, but an awareness that overcoming rote, automatic neural pathways takes an incredible amount of effort, patience, and dedication. Not only do you have to clearly see that you are engaging in these actions and that they are hurting you, you have to expend the effort and energy to recruit different brain pathways and make different choices each time you are confronted with the urge to follow your old ways. It is the same struggle we talked about previously: giving in to short-term rewards and enticements at the expense of long-term gains. It is the dilemma of satiating the brain-based messages in the moment versus choosing actions that are aligned with your goals and values (i.e., your true self). The ultimate goal is seeing that you are far more than your deceptive brain messages and that you can make choices that are in your genuine best interest.

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