Positively change your mind
“Man can alter his life by altering his thinking.”
~ William James
Think you can’t teach on old dog any new tricks? It turns out that humans are more adaptable than was originally thought. I recently attended an advanced coaching course on Neuroscience, Consciousness and Transformational Coaching, with one of the industry leaders, Ann Betz. Betz, a faculty member for the Coaches Training Institute, shared some compelling research about brain plasticity. According to Betz, in the human brain, the neural connections reinforce themselves through repetition. The more we think, feel, or do something, the stronger that pathway becomes, until we create deep patterns that could be set for life. Academics once believed that once a pathway was created, it was almost impossible to change. Research has proven otherwise.
The brain is capable of on-going myelination (the official word for creating new neural pathways). It is possible to create new connections, and subsequent thoughts and experiences. Coaching is one of the ways to consciously create these new pathways, and therefore, literally change our minds.
This research is particularly relevant in the quest to enhance positivity. Most neural pathways are laid in the early childhood and are then reinforced throughout a person’s life. If a child is surrounded by negative influences, communication and treatment, they are likely to lay negative, or destructive, neural pathways that could last a lifetime. The beauty of this research is in recognizing that we have a choice as to whether we wish to continue with negative habits, or choose to replace them with the positive.
As the Positive Imperative founder Victor Sinclair has suggested, it requires conscious and consistent effort to choose positive over negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours. In his theory the PosiRatio, he proposes that it requires 10 times the effort to choose the positive, however the ripple effect of a positive thought or action is far more powerful than the neutral or negative choices. According to his tenets within the Positive Imperative, it is each individual’s responsibility to become positively congruent. The research on brain plasticity provides concrete ways to prepare your mind to transform to the positive.
In committing to a positive existence, it is possible to enhance the plasticity of your brain, to make it easier to lay new neural, pathways. With new “wiring,” positive thoughts, emotions and behaviours can increasingly become your default reality. Research has shown that there are five key factors that aid in the myelination process: sleep, food, exercise, focused attention, and novelty.
Sleep: Experts recommend 7-9 hours/day, or at least 4 hours of deep sleep to allow for a full sleep cycle. Looking at screens right before sleep, as well as drinking alcohol or caffeine, can hurt the quality and quantity of sleep.
Food: Consuming Omega 3 fatty acids improves brain functioning and, specifically, brain plasticity. These can be found in certain fish, olive oil, avocados flax seeds and many other sources.
Exercise: The amount of research emerging about the positive impact of exercise on the brain is overwhelming. Everyone should aim to get heart rates elevated for at least 30 minutes, at least 4-5 times per week.
Mind Map by Jane Genovese, jane(at)learningfundamentals.com.au
Focused attention: Multi-tasking is so 2008. To build your brain, focused attention is key. This may be through meditation, focus on breath, or simply being present to whatever is in front of you. You may switch from one thing to another quite quickly, as long as you are focused on one thing at a time.
Novelty: Like any muscle in the body, the more you challenge the brain with new experiences, the stronger it will get. This could be by exposing yourself to new environments, languages, ways of thinking, travel, new sports or anything that provides a novel experience. Betz warns of the “Sudoku trap” where people may think that they’re working their brains by doing puzzles, but ultimately become so proficient at solving the puzzles that it is no longer a challenge, or novel.
If you find that you are lagging in any area, you may take steps to improve your score. For example, yoga is an activity that could benefit each of the five areas: a more rigorous practice can elevate your heart rate, satisfying the exercise component. The focus on the breath and the need to be totally present to avoid falling over helps develop focused attention. The relaxing and rejuvenating aspects of yoga help with sleep and the increased body awareness that comes with an evolving practice helps train you to pay closer attention to foods that improve vitality, as well as to signs that you are full. Finally, in a dynamic practice and with a variety of teachers, you will never have the same class twice. The series of poses can evolve to be so complex that one could practice for a lifetime and still have challenges to work on, satisfying the novelty criteria.
It is never too late to start building new neural pathways that will lead you to a more vital and effective mind – and life.
Coaching Tool: Use the following tool to evaluate your habits for a healthy brain (*reprinted with permission from Ann Betz). Use the wheel below to give yourself a score from 1-10 on how well you’re doing in each of the 5 areas linked to enhanced neuroplasticity. If the center of the circle is 0 and the outer line is a perfect 10, draw a line at approximately where you rate yourself (see the first diagram for an example. Ask yourself how your wheel would roll, if it were a wheel on a bicycle. Choose one area to improve over the next week. What can you do to take one baby step closer a more flexible and resilient brain?
North Star Coaches A recognized leader in executive coaching in Canada, Lindsay Sukornyk helps to maximize the human factor, by working with leaders that make a difference. Since founding North Star Coaches in 2002, she has implemented transformational leadership coaching programs into many of Canada’s leading organizations.
Lindsay strives to elevate her clients to their highest potential using a combination of large and small group workshops, team coaching, individual coaching and online coaching programs. In addition, Lindsay shares her passion for personal transformation through her writing for magazines and online publishers. Lindsay is a certified professional co-active coach (CPCC). She graduated from the Queen’s University Commerce program, where her studies focused on organizational behaviour and strategy. Prior to founding North Star Coaches, Lindsay was a strategic management consultant with A.T. Kearney, a global management consulting company.
Lindsay has been cited as an executive coaching expert in media publications, including The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Canadian Business Magazine, Maclean’s Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, CBC’s “Venture,” the Toronto Sun, Metro Daily, Toronto Business Times, Balance TV, and Canadian Living, W Network’s “The Right Fit” and “Yummy Mummy” and HGTV’s “Home to Go.” Lindsay is also an expert columnist in Canadian Health and Lifestyle Magazine.
When she is not working with her fabulous coaching clients, she adores spending time with her husband and four young children, particularly at their family cottage and on their extended stays in Costa Rica. She has many great passions, including baking, reading and her crazy, hot vinyasa yoga practice.