Moulding your mind to change behaviour
By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach
Yesterday I met a friend for coffee who was talking about a conversation she'd heard on the radio about neural pathways and habitual behaviour and how you can train the brain to form another neural pathway with a different habitual behaviour. Having heard the conversation she decided to try it out on herself with a pattern of behaviour that was really bothering her; drinking at home alone. Separated for many years and seldom socialising, she'd got into the bad habit of drinking a few glasses of wine on her own at night. Being a very visual person she decided to try and create a new neural pathway by not drinking alone at home and instead allowing herself alcohol only when she goes out to socialise. It's worked for her, not only has she stopped drinking at home alone but she's also going out more to connect with people. It's a win win I reckon, and - in case you're wondering - she doesn't go out every night either.
My friend has changed a habit using a neuroplasticity shaping technique.
I'm going to steal this next paragraph directly from the site What is neuroplasticity since I'm no expert on this stuff (correcting the US spelling of course!)
Neuroplasticity is derived from the root words Neuron and Plastic. A neuron refers to the nerve cells in our brain. Each individual neural cell is made up of an axon, dendrites, and is linked to one another by a small space called the synapses. The word plastic means to mould, sculpt, or modify. Neuroplasticity refers to the potential that the brain has to reorganise by creating new neural pathways to adapt, as it needs. Think of the neurological changes being made in the brain as the brain's way of tuning itself to meet your needs. A simple way to consider how the brain builds new neural pathways as it's challenged by new information and its environment might be to think of the brain as a radio. When dialling the tuning knob on the radio by hand to find something to listen to you might come across a station that sounds interesting, but has a great deal of static so you can't really understand everything they are saying. To bring the station in clearer you would focus and dial the station in slowly a digit at a time to bring it in with as little distortion as possible. You can think of building new neural pathways the same way when learning something new.
The more you focus and practice something the better you become at the new skill that you are learning or an obstacle you are trying to overcome. By doing this new neural connections are created in the brain as synapses that don't usually fire together do, which help us to sharpen our new skill.
Recent studies on the brain have proven that the brain can create new neural pathways. New neural cells are generated throughout life as well as new neural pathways. Even the elderly are capable of creating measurable changes in brain organization. These changes are not always easy but can happen through concerted focus on a defect area.
There you have it - you can teach old dogs new tricks!
My friend is in her 60's and has successfully practised repetitive behaviour to stop an old habit which was self-destructive. And we can do it too.
We all know the issue of over consumption or eating and drinking the wrong kind of food is complex and hard to overcome but it's absolutely possible when you train your mind to do it. The most important first step is to want to.
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