Something I work on with clients quite frequently is behavior change which, often enough, can be easier said than done. Our behaviors are based in our habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting and anyone who has tried to change a bad habit knows how challenging it can be.
Neural pathways, as the name suggests, are a series of networks in the brain and are created based on our repeated habits and behaviors.
Scientists in the last century came to the discovery that the brain is being shaped, molded and changed by our daily experiences. This discovery is called neural plasticity. Our brains can continue to change over our lifetime because they are being shaped by what is happening in our life and our habitual patterns of response.
Our brains are constantly altering existing neural pathways and creating newer ones so that we can process new information, learn from new experiences and adjust our responses accordingly. This complex process of developing new neural pathways is completely involuntary and yet we now know that we can alter our habitual ways of behaving and responding by consciously choosing to strengthen a new pathway.
I like the analogy of learning to drive a car. When you were first learning to drive a car, you had to think before performing the actions required. Put the key in the ignition, make sure the car is in park, put your foot on the brake, check that your mirrors are adjusted, turn the car on, make sure the area is clear in front of you, put the car in drive, and so forth. When you got to a turn in the road, you had to remember to use your turn signal, pay attention to right of way signs, and slowly start to turn the wheel to the right or left depending on your direction. Every action required careful forethought – this was a new and totally unfamiliar experience and required focused attention to each step involved. Here it is twenty or thirty or more years later and how painstakingly do you consider the next action and the next when driving? Most likely, many of these steps have become automatic; you don’t have to consciously think about them because you have practiced them habitually over many years. Your brain’s pathways have become strengthened over time through your thought and behaviors.
Let’s take another example – learning to juggle. As a beginner, you will likely fail quite a bit. The more you continue envisioning and practicing this skill, however, your brain will create new neural pathways that will enable you to become increasingly proficient over time.
This is really good news for anyone who wants to change an undesirable habit. Following this same principle, the more you consistently repeat a positive action with consistency and intensity, the more likely that new behavior will at some point begin to run on autopilot.
Here’s the catch: Like anything rewarding in life, developing new neural pathways requires hard work and consistency. This is a brief outline of the process.
- Develop a Strong Belief
The first step an artist must take before beginning a work is developing a belief that it is possible. Believing strongly in what you want to achieve is essential because you can only achieve a task if you believe that you can. Having this solid belief also helps your brain believe that your outcome is achievable thus increasing the likelihood of your brain developing new neural connections.
- Connect Positive Emotions with Your Goal
Emotions are our most powerful motivators and we can use this to our benefit. When setting out to develop new neural pathways, it is vital to start connecting positive, healthy emotions to your goals. When our emotions are actively engaged, these emotions act as the fuel to stimulate neurons to form new connections and galvanize the creation of these new pathways. Emotions drive you forward.
- Visualize yourself achieving what you desire
A good craftsman will always advise you to first create a visual image of what you want to create before you start working. Follow the same advice – visualizing what you desire encourages you to behave in a way that will support your vision
- Taking necessary actions
While believing in your goal and visualizing yourself achieving it are essential, what’s more important is to start taking the actions that will take you towards your goal.
This step is the most significant and supports all the others since it is taking action that will encourage the development of your brain’s new pathways.
- Rinse and repeat
Once you have begun the process, rinse and repeat. In other words, consistently believe, connect your emotions, visualize and take the necessary actions for your end result. Consistency is what will enable you to create and solidify new habits of thinking and action.
This is a simplified overview of the process of rewiring our brain. What’s important to note is that now, with enough understanding and dedication, we have within us the power to change our habits and lives for the better.