Rewiring the Brain

ImageThe automation of new health promoting behavior so you can THRIVE

“True development is about transforming the operating system itself, not just increasing your fund of knowledge or your behavioral repertoire.”
R. Kegan & L. Lahey – Psychologists Harvard

  • I’ve been practicing but not really enough.
  • I like to practice more but somehow I don’t seem to get around to it.
  • The first week I did it every day and then somehow I forgot.
  • I had such a busy week I just didn’t have time…

Do you recognize this behavior, these excuses? The most difficult part for most people whom I ask if they have been practicing their breathing exercises is that they start with determination but loose it after a few days or a week.

Even if it is the easiest thing in the world to do, to spent 9 minutes breathing consciously, it’s a challenge for most. 9 minutes is nothing in 24h, we probably stand on a daily basis longer in front of red traffic lights. Still those 3 x 3 minutes after a week are already long dismissed, forgotten,… and with it, the effort already invested wasted.

Is there a way to have more self-control?  YES!

The first factor for increased self-control is to realize that discipline and determination are rarely sufficient to make enduring change in contrast with what you might think. Just relying on discipline and determination can actually have the opposite effect to what you want as outcome. Just like a muscle that gets tired and stops functioning when put under continuous strain, self-control depletes progressively and falters when you don’t back it up with the needed energy to sustain it.

Second factor is that you are a creature of habit. 95% of your behavior occurs unconsciously and is processed in the primitive parts of your brain (reptilian brain). These processes are learned or are part of your evolutionary heritage. For example, to move towards pleasure and away from pain is one of those primal drives you’ve inherited from your more primitive ancestors. This biological heritage hasn’t really changed over the last 150,000 years. Look at it this way, your biology reacts to today’s life events which involves technological advancement just as it did in the time when humans were living as nomads and when were chased by a lion. So while our software has been evolving in step with the evolution of our culture, the operating system hasn’t nor has the (body) vehicle for that matter. That sets you up with behavioral responses that were once useful but which are now a nuisance.

“We have to be mistrustful of our brains”
David Kessler – FDA Commissioner.

Third factor is that your primitive instinct seeks immediate gratification which makes you impatient when it comes to long-term goals or with activities that only bring minute changes at a time. For example, changing the operating system, which means rewiring the brain can be a very slow process but so is training to be able to run a marathon. I’m sure like me you can visualize running a marathon – and even win it – in an instant in your minds eye but that doesn’t mean your body is up to it in the same amount of time you needed to envisage it.

The next important insight to know is that your cognitive brain situated in the prefrontal cortex is most of the time – especially when stressed – subservient to your primitive reptilian brain and as seen in factor 2 most of our behavior is directed by the latter. You run – so to speak – on old automatic behavioral patterns.

I hope you start to see that you are faced with rather a few challenges when it comes to self-control. However now that you are conscious of the challenges you can start by putting together an efficient and effective plan of action to update the operating system, by rewiring your brain.


Positive conditioning or in other words the automation of new health promoting behavior

Knowledge is power: Understand why you do the exercise and why it helps you
– Set a long-term goal and divide it into intermediate goals
– Create a training schedule or ritual: Describe and plan precisely when you are going to practice and for how long and set that time aside  and commit to it. You can use smart phone apps to help you with this.
Plan ahead. When you know stress full events are coming up like a meeting with the boss take time to exercise before and after
Expect resistance: What do you think will undermine your commitment? Why, why, why…
Involve others: Talk to a friend, partner, colleague have them join you or at least encourage you every day.
Enjoy the process and be inventive

Remember this…

Think back of that first day behind the steering wheel learning to drive or that first note you played on that flute, guitar or piano. Was that easy or a struggle to think about all the different handling’s you had to do simultaneously. However over time and with lots of practice and repetition it became second nature. Isn’t it amazing to play music or isn’t it absolutely a gift that you can drive a car? Now think of the benefits being healthy will bring into your life I think that is worth practicing for.

Be good to you, always.


Be Excellent at Anything by Tony Schwarz this book was recommended to me by Rob Bigge from the Greenhouse Group with whom I’ll be working together in the future for bringing you a cycle of workshops all on the theme ‘Understanding and Managing stress’


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