New research1 on the brain is revealing exactly how new habits form in 3 steps:
- Experiment: We explore a new behavior (which involves the prefrontal cortex, the striatrum, and the midbrain)
- Practice: We repeat the behavior creating a feedback loop (between the sensorimotor cortex and the striatrum)
- Benefit: The habit gets imprinted in the brain (with help from the infralimbic cortex)
Like Walking Through a Jungle
If you’ve worked with me privately, you may recall the image of creating a new pathway in the jungle that I describe when it comes to trying out new practices.
The old pathways you’ve walked are easy to see. The dirt beneath your feet is clear, there is space side to side between the foliage, and you can see up to the canopy of the trees and beyond.
When you begin to try out a new practice, it sometimes requires getting out a machete to chop away at branches and vines to create a new pathway. It takes a bit of work and it can be tiring. But over time, as you walk the path again and again, the old path grows over and is harder to see or walk. The new path gets easier and easier to walk.
This new path in the jungle is like the new pathway in the brain. (You can put away your machete now!)
We’ve known for a long time that change can be uncomfortable. We feel resistance inside of us.
It all begins with mindfulness about your own behaviors. That means cultivating greater self-awareness through practices that allow you to quiet your mind and observe what is going on inside that head of yours… and inside that body of yours.
I learned more than a decade ago in my study of mind-body medicine that the mind can heal the body and change its patterns. And you can influence how your brain works and support easier change and successful adoption of new habits and Platinum PracticesTM by trying out some simple practices.
(1) HEALTH Nutritional Tip
Make sure that you are continually drinking lots of water and getting healthy omega-3 fats in your diet. Neuroplasticity—or the ability of your brain to change, heal, and form new connections—is supported by a omega-3 fatty acids.2 This is critical for breaking bad habits and forming new healthy habits.
Why do you need omega 3? A good balance of omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) and omega 6 (pro-inflammatory) fats in your diet supports the creation of new pathways in your brain, which leads literally to flexible thinking.
It’s much harder to make a change that requires the support of your brain if you can’t flex your brain. The tissues are more rigid and harder to change when you have an excess of omega 6 (pro-inflammatory) fats in your diet. (Imagine trying to push a cart down a hallway that is full of clutter – it’s not easy!)
Instead, increase your intake of things like coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, wild fish, and—if you are a meat eater, strive to take in only 100% grass fed animal protein. Why? Because the nutritional research shows that grass fed animals have a much higher level of omega 3 fats in them. For example: 100% grass fed beef can have the same omega-3 levels as wild salmon!
(2) MINDSET Self-Awareness & Body Connection Tip
Take two minutes today to write down how you are feeling in your body.
* What makes you feel good and open and relaxed in your muscles and tissues?
* And what makes you feel tense and anxious and rigid?
Your body is really smart and your emotions affect how your body feels.
Your body will tell you what is working well for you and your life. This applies to relationships, work activities, social situations, and other things.
Practice this two-minute exercise and cultivate greater self-awareness and connection to your body so you know which habits serve you well, and which need some shifting.
(3) MINDSET Visualization Tip
I mentioned earlier that change can feel uncomfortable and awkward and you may resist it.
Visualize yourself walking a new path!
Instructions: Sit quietly and breathe deeply for a minute or so. Then imagine yourself walking in a jungle, just like the one I described in the introduction.
Imagine yourself holding a machete and carving out a new pathway for yourself. See the earth beneath your feet. Feel the amount of open space around you. See the open sky and tree canopy above you. Breathe freely and experience positive vibrations in your body.
Set an intention to do this in creating a new positive habit that supports the vision you have for your life. Follow the 3 steps outlined in the introduction: Experiment, Practice, and Benefit.
(4) HEALTH Energy Tip
Often when you’re in the middle of change, you feel anxious. That often results in you holding our breath and getting stuck in your head with lots of anxious thoughts.
Use the power of your conscious awareness to instead push your attention and energy downward to the earth to help yourself feel grounded. Literally imagine your energy flowing from your head down through your body and through your feet into the earth like an anchor dropping to the bottom of the ocean.
Feel strong and steady with your rooted feet on the ground. Feel solid and steady with deep belly breaths.
Imagine this downward rooting of your energy while breathing consciously a couple times a day to press the energy down and feel grounded and more stable through the changes you are making.
If you’d like to talk more about how to implement these tips or other strategies for making positive change and creating a healthier, happier, more productive life, let’s talk! Email me and we’ll schedule just 15 minutes to focus just on you.
1“The Neuroscience of Habits: How they form and why they are so hard to change,” Scientific American, June 2014. To find out whether obsession is a habit, see ScientificAmerican.com/jun2014/graybiel.
2 Dr. Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain and many more helpful resources, explains this clearly and simply on his website here: http://www.drperlmutter.com/process-neuroplasticity/