What surprised you in 2007? What did you do that was different, new or novel to the way you usually do it? And, what did you turn your undivided attention to last year? Whatever it was you changed last year may hold a key to what you will be able to change this year.
Dr. Norman Doidge, in his book The Brain That Changes Itself - a fascinating review of brain research over the past fifty years - confirms what motivational experts have touted for decades - that our brains are plastic, not rigid machines, and can learn and unlearn almost anything. Our flexible brains change with every encounter we have, every thought we hold on to and every new experience we engage in. We construct 'brain maps' for particular behaviours and, when we want to stop that behaviour or start a new one, we must take the time to create a new 'map' that sends and receives new stimuli that foster new choices and behaviours. Good news for would-be changers!
But, there is a catch of sorts. Apparently new brain maps require three things to alter themselves significantly enough to either erase old patterns or create new ones. The stimuli that create new and improved maps must be:
Compelling: We don't change what we don't want to change. That is, in order for our brain to take us seriously enough to go to all the trouble of changing itself, it (we) must first believe that what we want to change is indeed worthy of the effort. Remember when parents and teachers used to say, 'now pay attention, this is important'? Apparently that's just the kind of heads-up we need to give ourselves if we want to alter our thinking and ultimately our behaviour.
Surprising or Novel: Our brains like to create maps for responding to situations and then run down the same path over and over. It makes us feel safe, calm and sure of our next step. So, if we want to effect a change, we need to jolt our old map into pliability by giving it something it doesn't expect instead of the same old, same old. For example, if you want to stop gossiping at work you might splash water on your face when you find yourself telling tales. A bit drastic you say? Ok, what about recording what you say for a week and play it back to see how rumors sound coming out of your own mouth. That mental slap in the face might just be what the old gossip brain map would find surprising enough to consider switching to a kinder, gentler communication style.
Focused: Simply put, you can't just cruise into new or out of old patterns. Research has shown us that even stroke victims can regain use of cognitive ability and lifeless limbs if new mental maps are created. But, it takes concentration and real effort if a mental map is going to re-organize itself to respond in new ways. So if you want to be a different kind of person this year at home or work, you will have to apply yourself diligently to the task. I know, I know, you were hoping I would say that you can just dream your way to a better you - we all want that. And, it's bunk. Your brain 'No Can Do'.
So, are you ready for a change? Help yourself by making your change compelling, surprising and focused for success?
If I can be helpful to you in achieving your goals this year, it would be my pleasure.