Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Outsmart Your Brain!

It’s definitely that time of year, when we start to think of resolutions, of new habits. This will be the year I finally…

Well, unless we understand how our brains work and harness that energy, that change may be more difficult than we counted on. In less than a month, we’ll be back to our old ways and dreaming of next year.

Changing our behavior is challenging, but it’s not impossible. And the rewards make the effort more than worthwhile. Think of the feeling of accomplishment of meeting your goals. Think of the empowerment, the rewards, and the impact on your self-esteem.

First, let’s understand the challenge. We don’t change without first having the thought that we want to change. The desire attached to that thought determines whether the change we want will actually work for us. As Napoleon Hill says, "Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything."

The region of our brain called the basal ganglia controls cognition, learning, voluntary movement, and movement coordination. This is the place we “store” repetitive behavior, such as driving a car, so that we don’t have to consciously think of each step when we get behind the wheel.

Here’s the tricky part. New skills and ideas, as well as information, has to go through the prefrontal cortex. We move skills, ideas, info into the basal ganglia through repetition. Sounds easier than it actually is. Since the prefrontal cortex uses a lot of energy, our brains resist this. It’s easier to do what we’ve always done. (This explains why we give into temptation and sleep in on a Saturday morning instead of getting up and going to the gym!)

So how do we outsmart our brains? Repetition, repetition, repetition.

As Nathaniel Emmons says, “Habit is either the best of servants or the worst of masters.” We’ve heard it takes twenty-eight days to establish a new habit, and that’s a great place to start.

To really create new neural pathways, we need to do something for sixty to ninety days. And guess what? It takes up to 180 days (yep, half a year!) to have the information stored in the basal ganglia.

The good news is, by then, the new habit, the new strategy is second nature. Even better news, we can do this with several items at once. We can learn new eating habits, new writing discipline, and begin a savings plan, all at the same time.

With a goal, with the desire, with the determination, and with understanding how our brains can be outsmarted, success is within reach!

Here’s to YOUR success!