Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a rut? Perhaps you have a certain habit or pattern that you’ve tried to change, but you keep repeating it, even when you don’t want to. The old pattern comes creeping back, like an unwelcome guest in spite of your efforts.
You try harder to change, put in more effort. and you fail again. So, you try even harder. That doesn’t work, either. Tired and defeated, you may just give up. Maybe you even think that the problem is all in your head. In a way, it is.
Neural connections that cause a specific response to a stimulus grow stronger with use. The response becomes faster and stronger through repetition. This explains why even complex tasks become easier through practice, which is a good thing. However, this same strong feedback loop can develop habitual patterns that don’t serve us well and are difficult to interrupt.
You could blame your neurons and just give up. However, since you and your neurons are one and the same, it would be more effective and a lot less effort if the two of you put your heads together, so to speak. Your neurons are here to help, and sometimes they actually know yourself better than you do.
It is possible to interrupt an old pattern and allow for new pathways to be activated. It’s called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity means that our nervous system is inherently flexible and able to change during the course of our entire lifetime. But, we have to create an environment where our neurons are able to direct the impulses in a different direction to allow for neuroplasticity to occur. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to help support the process.
Make small, slow changes to allow for new motor and sensory pathways to be activated. Give yourself time to integrate the changes, and don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re not making progress. Remember, these changes are taking place deep in your nervous system in a visceral, organic way, not in a cognitive, thinking way.
Another thing to keep in mind (so to speak), is to watch your language. Negative self talk can easily trip up the new neural pathways from connecting. Support your nervous system by speaking words of encouragement. No, I’m not kidding. Your nervous system is always listening, and nothing can make new connections go haywire faster than talking trash about yourself.
Most of all, trust the intelligence of your nervous system. Your neurons are here to help, and they’re smarter than you think they are. After all, they got you this far in life, haven’t they? Just imagine how far they can take you if you let them. Speaking of imagination, that’s another way to fire up your nervous system. But, that’s a topic for another day.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP