We want to keep in mind that rewiring the brain for optimal health and wellbeing is a skill. Like any skill, we get better at it with practice. When we first start going to the gym, we don't expect to walk in and be able to lift the heaviest weights right away. We also don't expect that we will have super toned or big muscles after only a few visits. We know that it takes time to develop these things and we give ourselves permission to take a little time for the changes we are trying to make to actually occur in our physical being. And yet, when it comes to brain retraining, we don't necessarily see it in this light or put it in the same category as a skills that needs to be built and that gets stronger over time. Keep in the back of your mind that this is a skillset you are building and will continue to build over time, and with practice and refinement you will get better and better at it.
Some tips to help us build our skill:
Practice when times are easy. This makes it more accessible to us when times are tough. This is particularly true with practicing directing & sustaining our attention on something in particular and with elevating our emotional state. The more we do this when we are less challenged, the stronger the network of neural pathways and neurochemistry we are creating. This means that when we hit a particularly challenging moment, we have a foundation to access. This makes it easier to actually redirect our attention and access an elevated state despite what might be going on internally for us in those challenging moments. Mindfulness practices and elevating your emotional state throughout the day are great ways to develop these abilities.
Remember that the brain normalizes to a new level of functioning relatively quickly, so it is easy to forget how far we've come and how much our skillset has developed. Sometimes it helps to reflect back to where we were six months or a year ago compared to where we are now. Another opportunity that reinforces the changes is when we encounter events or special occasions that only occur once a year ( or infrequently), like the 4th of July, holidays, or birthdays. It gives us an opportunity to see the changes that have occurred since the last time this event came around. Finally, recording our successes, then going back and periodically reading them also reminds us how far we have come.
Repetition is key. The key to making and keeping changes in the brain is to practice over and over and over, and then practice some more. In positive psychology they talk about how it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to truly master the skill. Any professional athlete or musician can affirm that practice makes perfect, not only physically practicing but also including mental rehearsal. That's how we get good at something. And yes, it won't be perfect every time. There will be ups and downs along the way. We let go of getting caught up in that, keep our eye on the end goal, and keep going.
5. How we approach something has a big impact. A positive, healthy perspective is paramount. If we can come from a place of self compassion, accept that we are in the process of learning, cut ourselves a little bit of slack when we stumble, know that mistakes are learning opportunities to improve and do better, and see each day as a new beginning, we are far more likely to make and sustain gains over the long run. If we see retraining as a whole lot of work and dread doing it, it will have a negative impact on our pathways even if we are going through the motions of doing all the right things. If you do feel this way, remind yourself of why you are retraining, what will be available to you as you make progress that isn't available to you now, how it will change your quality of life, how it fits with your values and how you want to be in the world. If you don't enjoy your practice, look at making small changes to it that will help make it more fun and enjoyable. Know that in every skill we build there will be days where it goes easily and effortlessly and days where it is a slog. That is normal, and we don't need to get caught up in it or allow our brain to perseverate on negative thoughts about it on the tougher days. Instead, we can step back and keep that bigger picture perspective. Ups and downs are just a part of the journey. As the saying goes, "this too shall pass." If needed, reorient back to approaching the retraining from a place of hope, of inner knowing that this is the path to wellbeing. And remember, you are in the process of building a skill and mastery takes time. Enjoy the journey in addition to focusing on the desired outcome.
Until next time!
If you have a question, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 www.candywiddifield.com