Hit the Mental Gym

To build muscles, it takes repetition and rest.  What if it were the same for neuroplasticitychanging the brain?  Thanks to neuroplasticity, we can change our brain by breaking out of routines and building new ways of being.

The Harvard Business Review references neuroscience studies in many of their articles on changing habits, professional development and self-awareness such as this one: Four New Tools for Brain Workouts.

When trying to change something, especially a self-defeating thought or trigger, follow this workout.  It takes lots of reps, however the results can change your way of thinking about yourself or situation.

Step 1: Recognize your immediate emotional response.             

Start by noticing and labeling the emotion.  Is the feeling frustration, hurt, or happiness? Labeling the feeling, builds an emotional vocabulary, which allows us to identify how thoughts and emotions are connected.  Start with “Where did that reaction come from?” or “What are the feelings that are shaping your thoughts?”

Step 2: Challenge your automatic emotional reaction.  

Examine the emotional thoughts and to determine if the emotion and actions were warranted.  Ask yourself, “How and why might others respond differently to this?” or “How might I look at it differently?” In the moment this self-reflection may be a challenge.

Step 3: Develop an awareness of opportunities for effective thinking.

Now, apply critical thinking.  Separate the story you’re telling yourself from objective evidence.  You’ll find powerful examples David Burns’ moving Ted Talk on the topic.  Dr. Burns’ website http://feelinggood.com/ also has self-guided exercises to support your development in this area.

Step 4: Act your way into a new way of believing.           

How many times have you said to yourself “I need to start/stop (fill in the blank)!” Then, we do the new thing for a while, then go back to the old behavior. Behavior change only happens with continued practice.

  • What behavior, attitude, or self-talk do I want to change?
  • What would that behavior, attitude or self-talk turn into?
  • When and where can I practice the new behavior, attitude or self-talk and “act as if”?

This process is grounded in Positive Psychology.  To learn more, watch the uplifting Ted Talk of Shawn Achor, author of the Happiness Advantage.

Pick a workout to build your brain and new behaviors and go hit the metal gym!