Change Takes Practice
My son and I watched a webinar, “Helping Brains Thrive” by Dr. Andrew Lokuta of the UW Madison Kinesiology department. His work outlines how the developing brain is affected by substance abuse at the neurological level. My takeaway was that our brains are changeable, but it takes time to rewire our responses.
We talk about mindset a lot in coaching. “I want to respond with confidence. I don’t want to lose my cool. I want to talk to people easily. I don’t want to avoid what needs to get done.” How do we go from an old habit we’ve done our whole lives to a new behavior performed with fluency? With time, practice, and support to try new things.
Imagine this tree representing the neurological “arms” that make connections in the brain. What we practice grows stronger branches of connection. Habits form “thick branches” in our brain wiring. Why? Because of repetition and the comfortable feeling it gives us. The complex aspect of comfort is that even though it feels normal because we always do it, it might not be what we want to be doing. An example of this is me choosing a sugar cookie under stress. My goal is to make healthy choices and wellbeing. Under stress, sugar feels good to the brain and taste buds. Rewiring this response has required a new choice.
At a cellular level, I perceive stress and my wiring helps me out with a craving for sugar. When I don’t choose this route and have a cup of tea instead…I am making a new choice pathway. When I strengthen this pathway with repetition, the sugar cookie diminishes, and tea gets enhanced.
The example of sugar is easy because it is fairly straightforward. Certain stimuli trip the response for sugar. Trip a different response, change the outcome. It feels more complicated when it comes to changing an anger or shame response. We have years of developing coping and response systems. Sometimes we pick things that are not helpful. When we want to change our behavior, it is unknown what to change it to. How do I show up authentically and try something new?
In the sugar cookie example, I switched to something else I like: tea. What do I pivot to when I feel shame or rage? That seems bigger than a cookie! Surprisingly, it can be manageable. Remember that we are capable of change. Our lives are built up around responses that served us at one time. Making a new response can begin with the question, “How can I go differently about this and still be me?”
If I am angry and my habit is to say harming words…What about calming down before launching an attack? What could it look like to take a break and let the person know you’ll resume the conversation in an hour or so? Calming down is a build-able system.
If I make a mistake and I carry shame for days…What about imagining what my 5-year-old self would tell me as a different way to pivot to self-compassion. Self-compassion is a build-able structure.
If I avoid what I need to do because I don’t feel motivated to do anything…What about asking myself, “What do I need right now to flourish?” Flourishing is a workable option that takes practice.
Change takes time and support. Changing our responses neurologically withers away what we no longer need and grows new branches of the behaviors we are fostering. The withering process at the cellular level takes time. Examples I hear in coaching are anger, victim thinking, and lethargy. When change pivots away from an old habit, we shift our thinking and create new cellular constructs. This looks like growing the neurons that activate ideas of how to meet our needs, respond with empowerment, or change an action.
I’m not going to lie…It’s easier with support. Connect with me for a session to create accountability around the actions you want to change. It’s a process that takes time. Succeed in the process and you’ve succeeded in growing the systems of support needed to make the changes you want to see in your life.