Changing our Behavior – Creating New Neural Pathways!
Updated: May 3, 2020
Sometimes even though our intentions are good, it can be quite difficult to change our behavior. Most of us know that we need to move our bodies, eat healthy, and get a good night’s sleep in order to be at our best, yet we find ourselves staying with old habits, regardless.
There is a reason for this, and it’s not a matter of simple willpower. It is part of a complex system of neural pathways in our brains that are there to protect us.
Our brains are designed to protect us. Our brains prefer predictability, as that is what keeps us safe from unknown, potentially dangerous situations. Logically, we know that starting a new exercise routine is going to be a positive thing for our bodies, but our brains are hard-wired to resist changing things up.
So now what? Our brains are designed to resist making changes that will make us healthier, so what do we do if we want to start new habits?
This is where the miracle of our brain comes into play! Even though it is designed to resist change, you can actually create new neural pathways in your brain! This will not happen overnight, but it can and does happen, as long as you know how to approach your desired goal. This is also where mindful awareness can play an important role.
The most important thing to do when you are looking to make a behavior change, is to take imperfect action forward, no matter how small or insignificant these steps may seem. Taking small steps toward that new behavior or action is what will start the process of the new neural connections in your brain. Example: you decide you want to start going to the gym at least 3 times a week, but you haven’t been to the gym in a year, and you are finding it challenging to get back into the habit of going. Your brain is happy sticking with your routine, as it knows what to expect, and wants to keep you in a predictable space.
To counteract this, let’s talk through some steps to take. Start out by creating an intention for the coming week of small steps that will get you closer towards your goal of going to the gym: 1) write it down in your planner or calendar, be intentional about when you are going to go; 2) pack your gym bag the night before and put it by the door or in your car; 3) and even if you don’t go the first couple of times you put your gym bag in the car, keep putting it in the car. Stay true to your intention, and with each action towards your goal of going to the gym, you are creating connections in your brain that will eventually make your brain realize this is not new territory and slowly you will create a habit of going to the gym again.
This is a simple example, but can be applied towards any goal you have. Taking small steps towards your goal are not as jarring to your brain, creating less of a “fight or flight” response from the area of your brain that wants to keep you safe (the amygdala).
By being more aware of how our brains work, we will be more likely to be successful at creating positive change in our lives. Use the power of mindful awareness by being intentional about these baby steps, always moving forward, and even if we don’t succeed every day, each day is a new opportunity to keep going, and take one more step towards a healthier, happier you.
Have a healthy & mindful week!