C is for Change
Updated: Nov 3, 2021
“Change your attitude and you change your life. You cannot control what happens to you in your life, but you can always control how you respond to it. The way you choose to respond is a reflection of your attitude. By changing your attitude, you also change your perspective and change your life.” Roy Bennett
For us to experience change, we must consciously take action; whether it is a change of attitude or perspective or a change of behaviour. Unfortunately, to some extent we are all resistant to change as we are naturally inclined to take the easiest, most energy efficient options. Our routine activities are controlled by a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. They are ‘hardwired’ and so we don’t need to give them much conscious thought which is why we can often perform tasks on ‘automatic pilot’.
“Your brain loves habits because they are simple, structured, well-known, energy efficient, quick, and automatic.” Stan Jacobs
There have been many recent advances in technology which have allowed researchers to track the ‘energy’ of a thought moving through the brain similarly to the way that they track blood flowing through the body. As scientists watch different areas of the brain light up in response to specific thoughts, it shows that our initial response is to try to avoid change.
“Pushing our self past our boundaries of limitation and extreme, sometimes to something that knocks off our comfort zone, it creates new neuro pathways with our brain, we become smarter, wiser, more clarity, our life becomes more fulfilling. Only because we have a totally new experience. We get a new brain with that. Neuroplasticity ” Angie Karan
Change takes us away from our comfort zone by stimulating the prefrontal cortex, a section of the brain that is responsible for insight and impulse control. The problem starts because the prefrontal cortex is also directly linked to the amygdala (the most primitive part of the brain which in turn controls our "flight or fight" response). When the prefrontal cortex is inundated with new and unfamiliar concepts, the amygdala gets kicked into play and this is when we find ourselves experiencing anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, fatigue or anger.
“Depending on the complexity of the activity, [experiments have required] four and a half months, 144 days or even three months for a new brain map, equal in complexity to an old one, to be created in the motor cortex.”
Tara Swart (Neuroscience for Leadership)
It takes a lot of repetition or practice for connections to become established and for a new or complex concept to move from the prefrontal cortex to the basal ganglia. By making it familiar through repetition or by talking about it repeatedly, it then becomes less threatening and leads to a new default behaviour.
“Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” Daniel J. Siegel
To make chemical and physical changes in our brains, we need to pay attention. Our "attention density" (the amount of attention we pay to a particular experience over a specific time) increases as we increase our concentration on a specific idea. This high attention density is what leads to long-term behavioural change.
“Small shifts in your thinking, and small changes in your energy, can lead to massive alterations of your end result.” Kevin Michel
The prefrontal cortex can only deal well with a few concepts at one time. Rather than trying to incorporate too much change at one time, we will have better success if we practise the Japanese concept of Kaizen and make small incremental changes.
“The old adage we usually hear is that “practice makes perfect.” Based on what we know about neuroplasticity and deliberate practice, we should rephrase that to read, “practice makes permanent.” As you organize yourself for this self-reflective prep work, remember that it is not about being perfect but about creating new neural pathways that shift your default cultural programming as you grow in awareness and skill.” Zaretta L. Hammond
Another contributory factor in keeping your brain flexible and open to change is the general state of your physical health. Your brain uses a large proportion of your body’s nutrients.
“To function best, the brain requires around 45 nutrients that are as distinct as the molecules, cells, and tissues they shape. The brain, being radically efficient, makes many of these nutrients itself, and only ‘accepts’ whatever else it needs from our diets. Put simply: Everything in the brain that isn’t made by the brain itself is ‘imported’ from the food we eat,” Lisa Mosconi
In addition it is important to keep your brain hydrated. Water is an essential building block for your brain as it fills the spaces between the cells, “helping to form proteins and to absorb nutrients, as well as eliminating waste products,”
Finally, rest is essential to aid your brain to learn, unlearn, eliminate and then relearn new behaviours.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
How do you respond to change? Do you embrace it or fight it?
What are some good habits that you have?
What are some not-do-good habits that diminish your ability and opportunities to live your best life?
What new thing would you like to do? What fear or bad habit is stopping you?
What practical steps can you take to make the time and set goals to achieve your goal?
Are you giving yourself the best starting point for change by eating healthily, having some physical exercise, sleeping and rehydrating sufficiently?
If you want to explore this subject further, here are a few links to get you started:
“The way your mind is structured will determine the person you will become, the life you will live, and the fulfilment you will realize. When you modify your mind, you make changes to the operating system at your core and change your personal trajectory. And when you make a persistent occupation of this endeavour, you become the architect of your own character.” Designing the Mind: The Principles of Psychitecture