In Monday Memo

This week’s focus:

We have the power to replace bad habits with better ones – and the scientists agree!

Did you know that the brain is like a muscle that changes physically with the way we use it. This is a rather lay definition of what neuroscientists call “neuroplasticity” – and we can use this concept to get rid of our bad habits and replace them with good ones. (What follows is a further lay version that I hope the scientists amongst my readers will forgive!)

So, here is how I understand this stuff. The front of the brain (that part that fronts onto our forehead) is our pre-frontal cortex, that is the conscious part of our brain and whilst it can hold seven things at once – sorry girls! – it can only deal with one thing properly at a time! To consciously think with our pre-frontal cortex, however, takes a lot of energy and so when our brain receives a stimulus it looks to the limbic system behind the pre-frontal cortex for something, a mental map, that is associated with the particular type of stimulus. And so it is that we lock into our autopilot so easily, and with far less energy than is required to think consciously.

Let me use an analogy to explain the mental maps further. The first time we are in the grocery store cue and we look at and take a chocolate at the counter is like when we are out in the bush walking through long grass. The first time most of the grass returns to its normal place but a few trips to the grocer later a path starts establishing itself (in terms of our neuroplasticity, the mental map forms). Every time we take a chocolate as we end our grocery shopping, the path becomes more permanent until we have a four-lane highway (“hardwiring” our mental map!).

What happens when we go on diet? Well, if while in the queue we start thinking, “I mustn’t take the chocolate, I mustn’t, I mustn’t”, then one ends up with six-lane highway! What we need to do is look at the fruit and ignore the chocolate and build the fruit “muscle” like we did our chocolate “muscle” (one lane at a time!!). Apparently, the funny thing is that the chocolate highway falls into to disuse in the process (the grass grows back over it!).

And all it takes, apparently, is to repeat the new habit for 21 days! Simple as that! So, what one habit would you like to change this week?

Monday Morning Perspective: “The brain changes with repetition – with practice – which means that small efforts each day, will add up over time to big results.” – Rick Hanson

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