Taking your own advice…Changing your brain for the better
My intention today is brevity and focus. I am aware that now we are mid-way through this half term, we’ve just about got into the stride of school pandemic-protocols. However, the return to ‘new normal’ in our lives and at school means we are still in adjustment and that can feel like life is turbo charged… Overwhelm from tsunamis of information via email and all the other apps we’re using both personally and professionally to communicate means the proximity of overload is something I am hugely aware of. So if you’re here, and present to this message, I am truly thankful and seek to honour the preciousness of your kind attention. So my theme is ‘neuroplasticity’. How many of us had resolutions regarding lifestyle changes that we wanted to retain from the experience of lock-down? How many of those resolutions are now receding in the rear-view mirror? Yoga mats gathering dust, sourdough starters that have ended? An accelerating Deliveroo habit as the week and term progresses?
I came face to face with the legacy of many of my in-made changes the other day as I came back from my first in-person speaking engagement since March. A big moment. Not without it’s pressures and strains. The first time in 6 months I’d used my voice in large rooms for hours at a time… I couldn’t resist breaking my public transport journey to pay a final homage to the high altar of my addiction to retail-therapy. I ‘popped‘ into Liberty’s. I bought a lampshade. I tried on a jump-suit – my fatal error. ‘Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who is turning into their mother…of them all?’ It is a truth universally acknowledged that there are some mirrors that tell nice lies…And there are some which really don’t. This was the latter. It was one of those moments when all the chickens came home to roost of my worst pandemic habits…the lack of REAL exercise. The craving for sugary snacks. The wine…My inner-critic has been whining about this Pathway for months…the solution, on the face of it is simple…So why – oh why – haven’t I kept up with the booze-reduction plan. Why are my lovely running shoes still box-fresh?
One of the dirty secrets of the self-help / personal development industry, is that it is not the advice, or the book that makes the difference…it’s the habit, the practice, that wires in the change.
Neuroplasticity – Making lasting change… Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to be changed, through experience, in its structure and function. Dr Rick Hanson -Author of Neurodharma, Resilient etc. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Neurodharma-7-Steps-Highest-Happiness/dp/B0875GNR9K
The Science Part…
Our nervous system has the function of processing information. Information flows through the nervous system and enlists physical processes to represent it. As these information flows occur we have experiences of desire, aversion, these emotional and mental activities involve underlying neural connections firing together. When these connections fire together on a repeated basis, that response ‘wires together’ and becomes a fast-track, default response. In other words, the repeated patterns leave lasting physical traces behind. Changes that endure in neural structure and function. These changes are the basis for any lasting change. (See Dr Rick Hanson’s book Neurodharma) Eg 1. As a child our amygdala responds to a snappy dog by raising our heart-beat, spiking our system with cortisol, triggering great intakes of breath, readying us to run, or making us freeze. A traumatic experience like this will wire in directly, strongly, immediately, wordlessly. It will be a memory in feeling. This response will be repeated and the process reinforced at other sightings of dogs as we grow. Unless we have safely mediated and pleasurable experiences with dogs in the future, that balance out that threat-based response, anxiety about dogs is likely to become something of a trait. Eg 2. A child who has experienced serious emotional and physical neglect from his or her parents, will have a differently wired brain from those who have had their emotional needs met from an early age. They will me more emotionally volatile, have problems with emotion regulation, and very likely hold a lot of tension in the body, where they have had to manage without a container for their natural experiences of fear, anger, frustration, vulnerability. See Esther Bick’s research on the ‘Second Skin’ from the British Journal of Psychotherapy. The consequences for brain development are stark – as was discovered in the 1980s as the plight of abandoned children of Ceausescu’s regime in Romania. These children were kept physically alive, but chained to cots, they were starved of loving, caring physical, emotional, verbal connection and scans of their brains contrasted with the density of children of the same age and stage. fMRI scans showed visible holes in their grey matter. Holes which should not have been there. For those colleagues working with Looked After Children, and recently adopted children, this is in part the reason it takes such a very long time to wire in the feelings of safety, through consistent attachment. Learning emotional safety from scratch, but at a later, different point of brain-development. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227980457_The_petrified_self_Esther_Bick_and_her_membership_paper
Make the habit easier to perform, remove the obstacles to getting on with it. Make public your intentions, celebrate and observe the steps on the path as practice becomes habit, becomes a way of being…what you design becomes your default… See Duhigg: And Fogg: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tiny-Habits-Changes-Change-Everything/dp/0753553236/ref=sr_1_1?crid=24D8YN897MX1C&dchild=1&keywords=tiny+habits+bj+fogg&qid=1601030320&sprefix=Tiny+habits%2Caps%2C166&sr=8-1 This is why the research shows how much more powerful learning by experience is, than learning by being told…Ah…if only we had world enough and time! It also explains why it takes repetition for new concepts to make the transition from short term to long-term memory so that they can become more pliable in our minds. This is why in my work as a coach, the accountability process is so foundational. Because it is not the revelations and reflections in the actual sessions that make the difference. It is what happens BETWEEN the sessions, the commitment to action, taking repeated opportunities to TAKE the next steps, the DOING, that means the STATE of being that you are seeking, starts to wire in and become a TRAIT. And when I am working with a client, it is the vividness with which they can create their vision in our sessions that provides ignition, the motivation for the change. This is deepened by connecting with an emotional sense of what that change would mean to them, why it matters, what is important about it, for them and the impact they have on others. We search together for what truly resonates about that change, before designing the steps towards it. And those steps are defined clearly so they can be visualised, made tangible, concrete. Before leaving the session, there is a plan about when, how, and how many of those steps will be taken between leaving this session and the next. Whether those steps are taken or not, there is an important process of accountability – a reflection on the learning – without judgment, guilt, or shame. However, if the vision is clear, the desire is clear, but the steps are not being taken, then the process lacks momentum, and the sessions become mere conversations. It is the realisation of those next steps that makes the coaching viable. If the action part is evaded, then for whatever reason, the process is not working – perhaps there is an underlying resistance to change. Perhaps the readiness is not there yet. Perhaps a deeper look via a therapist is what is being signalled.
So, think of a change you want to make. What is it you want to dial up in your life – to make the intensity of term-time sustainable…so that we can take better care of ourselves, rather than white-knuckling it from holiday to holiday…? Is it: A calmer, decluttered mind? The ability to deal with other people’s emotion with less stress? Being able to be better at being on your own side in difficult conversations? Being able to hold onto boundaries? The need to overcome a sense of loss and resentment at the COVID restrictions? To exercise more? To stop over-thinking? To be more boundaries with your work? To bring more playfulness and laughter into your relationships? Now move towards the practice…to move from intention to action… Reflect on the gains, visualise the impact of the change? How will your life improve, what’s at stake? Consider – what steps you can take? What will you need to do? How can you start, and then what? And what would come after that? Think – what happens if you DO? What is on track to happen if you DON’T… How can you hold the goal in mind? How can you reduce the obstacles to the DOING – make the habit EASIER? How can you NOTICE, ACKNOWLEDGE, CELEBRATE the small steps along the way? How can you hold in mind the growing experiences of the desired STATE, so you want to repeat the experience AGAIN…RINSE and REPEAT in order to move the change from state to trait…
Celebrating the launch of my new coaching page:
https://www.emmagleadhill.com/coaching.phpWhat’s the change you seek? Mine is to strengthen the practice of stilling my mind – especially important in these times of change and uncertainty. Especially as the count-down to us moving house is accelerating! And with it the list of tasks…We all know so many things that would be good for us. That would be better for us. Less wine, more movement, less scrolling through news feeds, less sugar, less caffeine, more connection, more clarity, better sleep…It’s time to accept where we were at. Not to surrender to it – but to acknowledge it, to let it land properly, so that we can see more clearly, think more creatively. Over-thinking, self-shaming and yes-but thinking is not the problem. Under-acting is the problem. With love and gratitude, as always,Emma.