We have all struggled to achieve our goals at different times and for lots of different reasons….and some of the struggle we have can be around changing our behaviours…..and in particular it’s the adopting of new behaviours that can be the most difficult bit.
So, I want to share with you some of latest research in Neuroscience and how it sheds some light on behaviour change and then go on to give you some simple tips on how you can use these to help you achieve your own goals.
The first area I want to mention is around the Neuroplasticity of the brain. And like what the name suggests the brain is pliable like plasticine…. remember when we played with plasticine and playdoh as a child, the more you worked it the softer and more pliable it became and equally when you left it over time it dried up and hardened a bit!? So the brain circuits are exactly like that too. The more we repeat some task or behaviour, the more neural connections are made, and this is committed to memory and behaviour becomes automatic. Does this sound familiar? Learning to drive for example – the many hours spent practicing until the actions were automatic and intuitive.
The connections in the brain can be reworked or rewired, new circuits can be generated to obtain new behaviours, skills, thinking and emotions etc. This was only discovered in the 1980’s!!
Neuroplasticity is the power to create new and strengthen existing connections.
Before this discovery it was a popular belief that the brain was fixed and unchangeable…. that you couldn’t teach an old dog new trick!! We now know that brain plasticity is a fluid thing.
We can actively promote this wiring by adjusting our habits and lifestyle…. So my first tip to support this is;
Tip #1 Take Micro steps Daily
It is your behaviour and repeating it, that is everything when it comes to rewiring your brain, so taking daily micro-action to break bad habits and begin to forge new ones is critical to success!!
On average it takes 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic (and it takes anywhere between 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. (Philipa Lally, psychology researcher, University college London)
Understanding this from the beginning makes it easier to manage your expectations and commit to making small incremental improvements rather than pressuring yourself into thinking that you have to do it all at once.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.
It’s amazing what happens when you fully and mentally commit to something… the how just shows up.
You can also keep a daily journal or log where you can write down one simple task that you can complete each day to make progress on your goal. Challenge yourself to make progress consistently every day.
Be consistent. It’s better to make smaller goals each day than a bigger goal less frequently. If you’re having trouble keeping up, break down your daily action item into something even smaller. If you miss a day, start again…..
When your brain first records changes, these initial changes in your brain are only temporary. To make lasting changes in your brain patterns and to build up the most brain plasticity, you need to be diligent about challenging yourself daily.
Tip #2 Stop procrastination
Of course the longer you wait to change your behaviour and habits, the harder it’ll be to increase your brain plasticity. And if you stop procrastinating, your brain will be less likely to fall victim to the use it or lose it. “Hesitation is the kiss of death”
You can take action by two of my favourite methods that actually work:
- Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule(mind tool – trick your brain)– as soon as you recognise the need or impulse to make a [instinct to react] decision, you count backwards 5-4-3-2-1 and physically move to take that action.
- Peter Voogd’s Decision Train– you don’t wait until you feel like doing something. Instead, you do some pre-planning and act first, decide second and feel Most people are unsuccessful at taking action because they do the opposite and feel first before making their decisions.
Both concepts are based on the idea that if you wait until you feel like doing something, you’re never going to do it because you’re never going to feel like it.
So a way to hack procrastination is to trick your brain into moving and acting as quickly as possible before your mind gets in the way.
Tip #3 Lifestyle to support change
Exercise & Sleep
We all know that being active is good for the body and the soul…now we also know that it is good for our brain and its plasticity!! The increased blood flow triggers biochemical reactions that support neuroplasticity.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be particularly strenuous exercise – walking 30 mins/day is enough but the more exercise you do the greater the benefits. Basically the message is some exercise is better than none!!!
In Mathew Walker’s book “Why We sleep” it details this amazing breakthrough – “a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive; it keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious……” Have you heard about this discovery?
Yes, its Sleep and yet we as a nation are sleep deprived – Research by Laya of 13,000 revealed almost 80% of people are sleep deprived.
The benefits of sleep include:
- Sleep clears the mind and creates space for more memories and learning on a nightly basis.
- It consolidates our learning through memory – it effectively clicks the save button on those newly created files – sleep protects newly acquired information, stops us forgetting – consolidation
- Sleep to forget – now discovered that sleep has a very powerful discerning function and has the ability to file away important information and deletes trivial info.
- Sleep for motor memory – supports improvements in motor memory, playing piano for example
- Sleep for creativity – During the sleep phases of REM & NREM throughout the night memories are replayed and problems are run through, and brain can make the most distant and non-obvious connections.
So …Get a full night’s sleep – no scrimping! the brain needs to cycle through all sleep phases for optimising brain function – cognitive and emotional.
Reticular Activating System – RAS
The second area of the brain I want to tell you about is the Reticular Activating System… ….My RA… what I hear you ask? You might not even know that your body has a Reticular Activating System…. But it is a pretty key part of how your mind functions. In fact, it is like the sorting centre of your brain.
It filters out the non-essential messages and provides you with the information that is most important to you at the time.
If it wasn’t for your RAS, your mind would be overwhelmed with all the messages it receives from your senses. Each of the 5 senses (touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell) gather information and send it to the brain for processing. Your brain literally receives thousands of pieces of information every second. That is obviously far too much for you to take in at one time.
Your Reticular Activating System processes all the information that the senses receive and prioritises the things that need your attention immediately.
Have you ever noticed that when you decide to do something you immediately begin to see signs everywhere?
For example, if you’ve chosen to start a family, you’ll start to see pregnant ladies and babies in prams everywhere you go. This is your RAS in action. There are actually no more babies than before, it is just that they are now classed as ‘important information’. Prior to your decision your RAS would simply have filtered them out, classing them as ‘unimportant information’.
How your RAS can help with goal setting
The processing powers of your RAS can help in two main ways when it comes to goal setting.
1: The written word
The simple act of putting pen to paper engages many of the senses. The feel of the pen in your hand engages your touch. Seeing the words appear before your eyes engages your sight. The scent of the ink, the sound of the pen scratching across the paper, and the auditory experience of saying the words in your head as you write them.
Engaging your senses in this way puts your RAS on high alert. It helps to focus your mind. Suddenly all that information and opportunity that relates to your goals is now deemed ‘important’ and fed through to you.
Your mind cannot distinguish between reality and something that is vividly imagined. It only believes the messages it receives. So, that piece of seaweed that brushed against your leg in the ocean suddenly becomes a jellyfish if you let your imagination run away with you.
That is why it is important to master the art of visualisation. You can then use the vivid image of your dream life to convince your brain that it is possible.
To do this, you will need to have a clear visual in your mind of how you will feel, where you will be, and what it will look like when you have achieved your goal. Then, repeatedly visualise that same situation in your mind at least once a day.
Put your passion and energy into the visualisation, really feel it. If you do, your mind will begin to accept this visual as normal and achievable.
RAS focuses your mind – When you get your RAS on board with your goal setting, suddenly you become very focused on achieving those goals. All of those goal related things that you might have missed before will now be classed as ‘important’ and brought to your attention automatically.
As mentioned before, your mind cannot distinguish between reality and a vivid visual. If you allow negative thoughts and self-doubt to invade, then it can make your positive visualisations less powerful.
If you start to doubt that you can achieve your goal then your RAS will stop filtering the messages you need to succeed. Counteract the potential for any negativity by ensuring your goal is well thought out and planned. Believe in your true self, not your limiting beliefs!
Your RAS is a powerful resource when it comes to achieving your goals.
Be passionate and positive when it comes to visualising your dream life. Truly believe it and it will happen.
I hope you have enjoyed reading the above article and learning a bit more about our brains and how they can help us achieve our goals.
If you would like some support in formulating your goals, keeping you accountable or indeed going deeper helping you to uncover/unblock behaviours, mindsets and beliefs that may be holding you back or slowing you down, please get in touch by email firstname.lastname@example.org