How You Can Retrain Your Brain for a Better You
The human brain is an incredible thing. Whereas previously the brain was thought of as static and 'hard wired' in adulthood after your formative childhood years, now scientists have found that in fact, it is a highly adaptable and rewireable organ, right into old age. This means we can learn and unlearn all kinds of behavioural patterns throughout our lives - that includes traits that are good for us, and others that are considerably less so.
The latest scientific research has found it takes approximately 66 days to rewire the brain to form a new habit - to establish new neural pathways in what is called neuroplasticity. The study was conducted by UCL's Department of Behavioural Science and Health as part of their ongoing research on how human behaviour impacts health and health outcomes. However, it can be applied to any area, such as forming new habits which increase your performance or productivity.
The elite athlete's brain for example has been wired for excellence through years of training. This desire for excellence in competition often translates into other sectors outside of track and field, because it has become part of the personality. What we become in one area of our lives is often the template through which we express in other areas of life.
Neuroplasticity also means nerve cells in the brain called neurons can find new pathways to compensate for injury and disease or adjust to new situations, changes in environment or when learning new beneficial habits.
And the good news is, neuroplasticity means anyone can retrain their brains - from children, to students, to everyday adults to top CEOs to OAPs. Neuroplasticity can also help people recover from strokes and brain injuries and can even help overcome autism, addictions, and depression, or combat obsessive compulsive disorders. It can be used to develop intellectual ability, creativity or reaction speeds that can be applied to all areas of life and in business, art and sport.
Ironically, it is this very plasticity that can just as easily form negative changes which enable bad behaviour and thoughts, which is how we can sometimes spiral downwards into depression, negativity, or harmful habits
Through the process of repetition, anyone can form a new habit. Habits are defined as behaviours that we do automatically because we've done it so often in the past. So we have to learn to repeat the new behaviours over and over for around 66 days, as the UCL researchers found.
This repetition creates a mental association between the situation at hand and action required from it. This means when a particular cue is encountered, the behaviour is performed automatically, without us even consciously thinking about it. It can relate not just to behaviours, but to your thinking and emotions too.
Just as with learning a musical instrument, you have to practice everyday to achieve results. No one ever became a virtuoso violinist overnight!
For example, if you repeat certain behaviours relevant to peak performance you can rewire your brain to always achieve it. You can change your thinking from looking at something as being an impossible mountain to climb, to being an achievable challenge. How effective this process is naturally depends on how often we train the mind and brain. Every time we learn something new, the structure of the brain changes and the more we use a certain behaviour or thought process, the larger and more permanent that neural pathway becomes.
Using these techniques, I've worked with everyone from top city traders through to Olympic athletes and time and again, they work. Just setting a little time aside every day to focus on exercises to learn these new behaviours works - often through repeating mantras coupled with mindfulness and meditation techniques. Once learned, they become involuntary and automatic responses.
There are online brain training exercises you can try or you can retrain your brain by just making small changes in your daily routine. The trick is to challenge yourself to think in new ways and to try and embrace positive forward thinking.
The genius part of it is, the harder you try to retrain your brain, the more you're motivated, so the bigger the brain change will be.
When the human brain and mind is trained along the lines of these ideas we can become more measured, rational, non-reactive, humanistic and creative.
Ultimately, we can all achieve a state of mind where we feel empowered to do and be what we really desire - and truly experience the life we wish to live.
Anastasia Hatzivasilou is a life coach, behavioural analyst and the founder of SAM - Super Able Mind (http://www.superablemind.com/) - which has developed a cognitive training programme and set of cards based on seven unique principles of higher brain performance.