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Dear Candy - Incremental Training Tips

Today's question: Can you talk more about incremental training and how to do it?

There are many different ways to incrementally retrain your brain. It is helpful to understand the "why" of what you are doing so that you can allow it to inform the "how". Incremental training or shaping, as Dr. Edward Taub calls it, is about pushing the edge of your comfort zone and helping the body and brain expand what it is currently comfortable or capable of doing. Change does not happen in the comfort zone, so we need to step slightly outside of that in order to change and grow. Then, we pair this slight discomfort with an elevated emotional state or really good distraction, and repeat it often. The repetition helps the brain and body get used to this new level of functioning, which eventually becomes our new comfort zone. Repetition allows the brain to create a different association with the trigger, so that it no longer evokes fear or stress, but rather peace & calm or elevated emotions instead.

Once we reach that point where the slight discomfort is no longer there and we are now used to operating at this new level more comfortably, we expand our challenge to the next level. This process continues until we no longer experience any challenge, and we can do what we want or go where we want.

There are a few important keys to keep in mind when incrementally training:

  1. Less is often more. Watch the tendency of the brain to go into all or nothing thinking. It may try to convince you that if you're not doing a big challenge then there is no point. But in reality, we want to find that sweet spot where we are slightly challenged but not over-challenged to the point where our systems are in such a strong stress response that we cannot redirect it out. If you cannot redirect your brain into something distracting or a positive emotional state, then back off a little in the level of challenge you are using and work your way up. In the end you will get there faster than if you keep over challenging yourself.

  2. That being said, on the other hand if you are not stretching yourself into discomfort, or fear is completely preventing you from doing incremental training, you're going to need to up the anti a little bit. Know that slight discomfort is not life threatening (even though your brain might try to tell you it is). Fear is coming up because your brain has associated whatever it is you're trying to train around with being threatening to you. Understand this, separate yourself from the fear by labeling it as your brain sending you false messages, and tell your brain that you are safe. As Joe Dispenza says, "think greater than how you feel", and train anyway despite what your brain wants you to believe.

  3. Finding the starting point for incremental training can vary depending on what you are working with and how strong the negative associations are with that stimulus. For some, starting in the imagination is enough to trigger a high level of discomfort. Then we work up to seeing the stimulus from afar, then having it in our presence briefly, and so on. Same goes for food. Eventually add smelling it, putting it up to your lips, taking a small bite, etc. For some things, you may be able to skip over these beginning steps and go right to tasting the food or having the smell of something in your presence right away, or doing the activity. If so, that's great. Again, it is about recognizing where your discomfort starts and beginning there. For energy issues or exercise, again, we can begin with just a few minutes and work our way up.

  4. Take the focus off what happens after you incrementally train. Don't get caught up in body checking or analyzing to see whether or not you're reacting. Hypervigilence is the enemy of progress. Keep the focus on the understanding that if you keep pairing the challenge with elevated emotion or good distraction, your response will change with repetition. It may not happen instantly and that doesn't matter. Keep working it and your brain will have no choice but to change.

  5. Take your best guess as to where your training zone is, and adjust as needed. It doesn't have to be perfect in order to get benefit and make progress. If you overdo it, simply back off and catch your automatic negative thoughts. Do more to elevate your emotions that day and know that your system will calm down. Once you have an experience of this, it gets easier to take risks with incremental training because you know you're not going to get stuck in an over-reaction.

  6. Finally, have fun with your training as much as you can. Pick things you really want to do, or eat, or smell. Remember the positive memories and associations you may already have with those things in the past. Allow the enjoyment to guide you forward whenever you can.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Canadians out there! This is a great time to share what we are grateful for (and why), and allow that gratitude to fill us up. If you don't feel it, act as if you do until it becomes real (which it will with repetition over time).

Until next time!

Next week: The immune system's response to retraining, and how to navigate that.


Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki

Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at

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