The Brain and Our Habits
Here are some choice nuggets from Psychotherapy Networker (Jan/Feb 2014), whose entire issue is devoted to brain science and tells us a great deal about our habits.
According to Brent Atkinson, Ph.D. (“The Great Deception—We’re Less in Control Than We Think”), “Whereas undisciplined people are influenced primarily by the gut feelings they experience in the present moment…disciplined people are equally influenced by good and bad feelings generated while remembering the past…or envisioning the future” (p. 28). Think about consequences and you’ll always do fine.
He maintains that “…distress tolerance and self-soothing exercises help clients turn toward their own upset feelings and engage directly in physiological soothing, temporarily postponing thoughts about problems. This process of self-accompaniment elicits a sense of calm in the storm, allowing clients to avoid alarm or panic when things aren’t going well...each day that goes by without practicing distress tolerance and self-soothing decreases the likelihood that their brains will begin to produce calming instincts and inclinations automatically” (p. 31).
Mary Sykes Wylie, Ph.D. talks about brain plasticity in “Beyond Phrenology—Let’s Look At How the Brain Really Works,” referencing psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher Norman Doidge who says, “…if you do something that’s good for you, the circuitry will fire faster, stronger, and more clearly. Over time, it’ll take up more cortical real estate and become your default circuitry. But it’s also true that if you do something that’s bad for you, the same thing happens…The plastic paradox accounts for both our flexibility when we choose to do something for the first time as well as our symptomatic rigidity” (p. 36). Wylie reinforces this point, saying, “Each time we respond to a trigger in a particular way, we actually deepen the neural circuitry supporting it. Each time you do the thing that’s bad for you…you’re going to deepen this pattern” (p. 37).
Finally, Rich Hanson, Ph.D. in “The Next Big Step—What’s Ahead in Psychotherapy’s Fascination with Brain Science?”, reminds us that, “It’s usually lots of little things that change a person’s mind (and thus the brain) for the worse, and it’s going to be lots of little things that change this mind and brain for the better” (p. 48). Atkinson underscores this point: “…anything you consistently give attention to teaches the brain to produce more of it…” (p.50) Reread this blog and remember all of its wisdom, especially that changing your eating in the moment helps change your brain for the future.