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Coach and coax your brain to create new habits: Lay down some new tracks

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution .

Want to make some changes in your life? Is there something you want to quit doing? Or start doing? If yes, then please read one of the articles I have written with Jeffrey Schwartz to which I have linked and from which I have taken excerpts below.

I was pleased to see an article in Sunday’s New York Times in which was a discussion about self-directed neuroplasticity (changing your brain on purpose). The article’s author Janet Rae-Dupree did not use the phrase "self-directed neuroplasticity but nevertheless described it.

HABITS are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of familiar routine. “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. In the ever-changing 21st century, even the word “habit” carries a negative connotation.

So it seems antithetical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

Click to read the rest of "Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?"

Here are more tips on changing your brain from two of our articles.

From "Brain Management . . . Law Firm Leadership on the Neuro Frontier" (Of Counsel):

Let’s say that you have decided to listen more to your prospective clients, clients, partners, associates, or staff. Perhaps you have heard, as a result of some business development or management or mentoring training program, all about the benefits of being a good listener. But as you begin a conversation, you feel the need to talk, even pontificate.

Now, you confront the moment of choice. That moment of choice holds the gold in self-directed neuroplasticity, in controlling the rewiring of your brain. You can choose to talk. If you are accustomed to being more of a talker than a listener, your brain will call to you to follow the old neuron connections, the old and well-worn synapses. These old synapses are habitual and the most comfortable for you. The old paths fit like a pair of used, comfortable slippers or jeans. They are seductive and part of the familiar you.

Or you can choose to listen. If you experience the powerful urge to open your mouth and talk, you are going to need to begin to develop some new brain grooves, some new synapses. Not as easy as going with the old ruts and grooves, but it is doable and the good news is that it gets easier and easier. Each time you choose to listen instead of talk, you will be developing and strengthening new neuron connections, new listening synapses.

The more you choose to listen, the stronger those paths will grow. After a while, listening will feel old slipper comfortable, too. Then, when an interaction occurs, you will have the choice of which brain path to follow depending upon which is appropriate to the situation. In any event, you won’t simply be governed by an old habit.

From "Exercise Mind Hygiene On A Daily Basis" (The Complete Lawyer):

…Golden Moments of Choice are possible because your brain is always changing (that’s called neuroplasticity). The changes are either by default as it interacts with

your environment or deliberately as it
interacts with your mind. Your brain can either be randomly molded by
external circumstances or artistically sculpted by your self-aware
mind. Which do you think leads to an intentional-and self-directed
life—letting your brain be rewired by outside forces, or ensuring that
the brain rewire is an inside operation?

Here’s an example of a Golden Moment of Choice: You have decided
that you are going to keep your promise and get home each evening in
time to put the kids to bed. When 7 p.m. rolls around, you recognize
that you can move in one of two directions: you can keep working or get
going. Because of your habit of working very late, the synapses in your
brain have been forged to support your habit, and you feel the urge to
stay. This physiological component of your habitual behavior is making
your decision difficult. Nevertheless, you decide to leave. Now, each
time you make this new choice, it will be easier: You will be laying
down “going-home-to-the-kids” synapses to support the new behavior (and
you will be using self-directed neuroplasticity).

That’s all you need to know. Now go forth; break old habits and make new ones. Golden Moments of Choice can be life-changing.


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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