Why Doesn’t Joy Trigger Us to Change?

Have you ever made some fundamental change because things were going great?  If you have, you’ll be the first person I’ve heard of who has.  Usually, people show up in my office because they’ve hit a brick wall of some sort, and they feel that something has to change….now.

Why is it that we only change when things get “so bad”?  Well, it comes down to survival.  Your sense of self (which stores how you feel about being human and then generates every moment of your life from those feelings) is your survival mechanism—it’s literally how you feel you need to be to stay alive on the planet.  So, it’s actually quite natural that your sense of self resists change.

But what about changes that you know are good for you, like exercising more, eating well, not working so late?  Why would your sense of self resist changes that are obviously going to be beneficial?  It’s because your sense of self isn’t part of your thinking brain. Your sense of self was developed before you could think, so it doesn’t respond to rational thoughts.  It merely stores your survival mechanism as “the way it is to be human,” without regard to whether what it stores and generates is objectively good or bad for you.

Wait, really?  Yes.  Here’s an example.  Your sense of self was put into place when you were younger than 2 1/2, so let’s look at how a 2-year-old would respond to a change they feel affects their survival.  Think about an abused child who is being taken away from her abusive parent.  Often, she will cling to the person who was hurting her, because that person is her whole world – they have always provided her survival.  We know rationally that this child is going to be better off, but her little 2-year-old sense of self can’t understand that, so she clings.

Your sense of self never grows beyond the age of 2 1/2.  So, you’re always clinging to your survival mechanism, even when it is “abusing” you.  That’s why I always remind my clients to be kind to themselves when they’re making big changes.  The 2-year-old inside is just terrified, even by changes that make sense rationally.  So, it’s only when a situation becomes absolutely intolerable that we are willing to make the courageous leap away from the way we’ve survived all these years.

A situation I see over and over again is one created by the survival mechanism that says, “It’s not safe for me to matter or voice what I think.”  An example is someone who is constantly passed over for job promotions in favor of his subordinates, where his boss always second-guesses his decisions and never recognizes his accomplishments.  You’d think if this man were in the position to get another job, he would jump at it, right?  But if his sense of self includes the feeling that “it’s only safe to be silent and invisible,” this job is a perfect fit.  His sense of self says, “This is great!  I can survive forever like this!”

But there is a unique voice within each of us that yearns to be seen and heard and to openly express what truly matters.  At some point, this man will reach the point where the cost of burying that voice to in order to survive is just too high.  It will become too painful to stay invisible.  He will reach that brick wall that my clients talk about—and that they find Quanta Change helps them dismantle, layer by layer.  As the brick wall comes down, they more often find themselves in situations (often with the same people as before!) where they are invited to share their opinions and gifts, and where it feels safe and easy to do so.

Does this sound familiar? Is part of you screaming to make a change, but you just can’t seem to do it? What do you think is the survival mechanism standing in the way of your good change?

Update: The client I spoke of above had some significant changes in his job situation recently, as a result of working on the feeling that he does matter. He got a new boss who really honors my client’s opinions and who even asks for feedback on how he (the boss) is doing his job. He received an honorary bonus for the first time ever, after many years at the same company. He’s being recognized by many around him for his gift of managing difficult situations calmly. He said it’s a huge change for him that he’s amazed by, given that he hasn’t taken any rational action to make any of it happen, and he’s doing his job the same way he always has.

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

Meet the 2-Year-Old in Charge of Your Life

The 2-year-old in charge of your lifeEvery moment of your life is generated by a 2-year-old.  Sounds crazy, right?  But every time I explain how this works to someone, the response is, “Finally, I can understand what’s going on in my life.  That makes so much sense!”

So, who is this 2-year-old, and how in the world did it get to be in charge?  The 2-year-old is your sense of self, the part of you that stores how you feel about being human, and it is the generating force behind every moment of your life.  Your sense of self was developed from conception until you were about 2 1/2 years old.  During this time, you absorbed how it feels to be human from the way those around you felt about being human – good or bad.

In a perfect world, the absorbing process was meant to expand your natural well-being, the kernel of energy you began with in the womb.  You should have reached age 2 1/2 feeling that it is GREAT being you, just as you are.  What went wrong?  Well, the people around you didn’t feel great about being themselves in every moment.  When they felt bad, your sense of self absorbed that feeling as “there is something wrong being human.” Actually, because your sense of self only really understands “me,” it absorbed that feeling as “there is something wrong with ME.”  We call this feeling Learned Distress.

Of course, you didn’t choose to store this feeling.  Your thinking brain hadn’t begun to operate yet, so you were just a sponge.  A sponge doesn’t have a choice in what it absorbs.  It takes it all in without any ability to discern what might be helpful or not. Your sense of self sponge couldn’t evaluate the negative feelings as “good” or “bad” for you – Learned Distress was just “the way life IS.”

So, by the age of 2 1/2, your sense of self had become a mixture of these 2 feelings: well-being and Learned Distress.  And each moment of your life has been generated from one of those basic feelings – automatically, without your conscious control or input.  (Click to read about the science that explains how this works.)  Of course, you have the ability to cope with or control the moments that don’t feel good, and you have undoubtedly developed good mechanisms to do just that.  But often, those mechanisms get overridden by the intensity of your Learned Distress.

Here’s an example from my own life.  My dad was diagnosed with kidney failure when I was still in the womb, and he died when I was 3 1/2.  So, one of my bits of Learned Distress became “the way to be an adult is to get sick and die.”  And in my 20’s, I did get sick – my endocrine function started to deteriorate.  After years of working with different doctors and approaches, I found an MD who had great success with my condition.  He evaluated me after several months on his regimen and said wasn’t working for me. On the surface, I was disappointed, but something deep inside me was jumping for joy.  This was puzzling until I looked at my Learned Distress.  If “the way to be an adult is to get sick and die,” I was right on track!  Success!   It makes no rational sense, right?  Who would be happy about that?   But the 2-year-old can’t operate rationally.  It’s just operating from what the sponge-like sense of self absorbed.

There are countless examples of  this – what we call negative Brain Direction: someone eating a certain food despite knowing it makes them feel bad, someone continually having their ideas ignored despite speaking up for themselves, someone whose career is going nowhere despite “doing everything right,” and the list goes on.

Where is your 2-year-old making life difficult?  What would it be like if well-being were the generating force behind your moments, instead?  The Quanta Change Process was designed to allow that to happen, which it does by permanently removing layers of Learned Distress.  The 2-year-old is always in charge, but when well-being is the generating force, life starts to look and feel very different.  As layers of Learned Distress peel away, the good things start to happen  just the way the negative moments have always happened – automatically!

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.

Why Seeing Things Differently Isn’t Enough

voyage of self-discovery“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

I have a love-hate relationship with this quote. I love that it points toward a deep discovery of self as a way to experience life differently. But, if “having new eyes” means “understanding or seeing” oneself differently, it doesn’t go nearly far enough for me.Continue reading

How Dreams Run Your Life

Do you know how much influence your dreams having on your waking life?  It’s immeasurable.  Each night, your brain takes how you feel about being human to sleep with you.  It uses that feeling to recharge your sense of self, which is the invisible engine that generates every moment of your life.  Your dreams determine so much of what happens for you and how you feel about it!Continue reading

From Crisis to Creative Expression: A Quanta Change Success

Sometimes Quanta Change brings dramatic, longed-for changes.  One of these happened for a talented singer-songwriter and guitarist whose health issues prevented him from playing guitar for several years.  Having his favorite creative pursuit stifled was discouraging, but he had accepted it.  The direct connection between his health problems and inability to play led to a fascinating Quanta Change.Continue reading

Dreaming woman

Dreams: Your Brain Works Hard While You Sleep

Dreaming woman“You need to get more work done.  Can you go back to sleep?”  Mimi Herrmann, Quanta Change founder, said that to me a few times over the years.  You’re probably laughing, but she was completely serious.

Dreams are your brain’s vehicle for recharging your batteries – specifically, the battery that stores how you feel about being human and how you deal the situations in your life.  So, you have your dreams to thank for the way you wake up and handle each day.Continue reading

Procrastination Isn’t What You Think


“Procrastination” does NOT equal “lazy.”  This is one of my favorite things to tell people who procrastinate, as so many of us do! Procrastination stems from the fear that “I don’t know how to do this perfectly.”  You can say this in a number of ways, including, “I’m not smart enough,” and, “I’m not good enough.”  Or, your inner voice might say, “I HAVE to do this perfectly,” or, “I HAVE to show everyone that I know how.”

When this form of Learned Distress is triggered, we do everything we can to avoid having “I’m not good enough” confirmed once again, or having people see our deepest secret – that we aren’t perfect.  We hold off doing whatever the task is until the last possible second – until the pain of not completing it at all is greater than our fear that we can’t do it well or perfectly.

It can be helpful to know that the part of us that stores Learned Distress is 2 years old.  You probably wouldn’t yell at a toddler for being scared, and it can be helpful to have this same compassion for yourself when you are feeling reluctant to start or finish a project or task.  It’s also helpful to know that Learned Distress is just a feeling that can be unlearned, so that your well-being can come to the surface and allow you to accomplish what you want to do.

The well-being state in this “getting stuff done” arena has a couple of feelings associated with it:
1. Comfort with your own unique way of doing things. (instead of following “their” rules perfectly)
2. A sense that you have everything you need within you to achieve your goals

What’s the result when someone unlearns the Learned Distress behind their procrastination?  Often without even noticing that something is different (typical with Quanta Change), people find themselves doing the very task they dreaded easily and without resistance.  In fact, I often have to point out that they accomplished something that a week or two before seemed impossible.

As an example, a college student was struggling in his humanities class and was dreading the paper he had to write for it, so we began to work on this procrastination theme.  As he unlearned layers of “I don’t know how,” he found a subject that excited him and decided to write about that.  He was so excited about it that he actually finished his paper early – a first for him!  He found that he did indeed have the ability to do it, and he found a subject that fit him – fit his uniqueness.  He kept telling me, “It was so easy and fun!”  He had never felt this way about writing a paper before.  His teacher told him it was the best paper she had read all year.

What does the voice in your head say when you’re struggling to start or finish something?


Your Well-being Is Only One Black Door Away

Black DoorMimi Herrmann, Quanta Change founder, told me this story just as I was beginning the process for myself.  It gave me a great idea of what was to come. . .and it still gives me goosebumps when I tell it:

Long ago, there was a war that had been going on for many years.  The convention of the day was to put prisoners of war to death by firing squad, but one general took an unconventional approach with his prisoners.  He gave them a choice: face the firing squad or walk through a black door in the amphitheater.

One day, the general’s aide came to him with a question: “Why hasn’t anyone ever chosen the black door?”  The general answered, “Because they’re afraid of the unknown.”

Then, the aide asked what he really wanted to know: “General, what’s behind the black door?”  With great sadness, the general answered, “The black door leads to their freedom.”

Mimi said that Quanta Change is the black door for us—it leads to our freedom from living with the feeling that there is “something wrong with me” and having to work so hard to try and feel good.  And just as the prisoners could not even imagine the freedom that existed beyond the door, we can’t really imagine what true well-being is like until we experience it.

“Really?” some of you ask.  “I haven’t experienced my true well-being yet?  But I’ve done LOTS of work on myself!”  My own experience and that of many of my clients—some who have “done it all” in the realms of self-help, spiritual growth, therapy, you name it, over decades—is that the freedom that Quanta Change brings truly is different and new.

They say things like, “I’ve never felt anything like this!” or, “That resentment that has been around my whole life. . .it’s just GONE.  I can’t even feel it anymore.”  Or a few months into the process, I’ll remind them of something they’d struggled with their whole lives, and they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, that.  I had forgotten all about it!”  Memory is stored by the intensity of feeling associated with it.  So, when you permanently unlearn a layer of Learned Distress, the memory of it literally disappears.  Not only do you not feel bad at that level anymore, but you don’t even remember how it felt.

Are you ready to walk through your own black door?  To find out what it’s like for your well-being to work for you, not the other way around?

Why Is Change So Hard?

People tell me all the time, “I work really hard to create good change in my life and I still wake up day after day feeling the same and stuck in the same situations.  Maybe it changes a little, but not much.  I’m tired of working this hard and not really seeing anything change.”

Why is the change we want so hard to achieve?  To answer that, we have to look at what is being threatened by change.  Is it that we just don’t like change, as we so often hear?  Is it that we are stubborn or just plain dumb—that we can’t see how much better life would be?  Nope.Continue reading