Rewiring The Brain: How To Use Habit To Regulate Your Emotions
It’s undeniable that your Response Flexibility, which results from strengthening the homeostasis of your nervous systems, is your ticket to Self-Regulation. As I laid out in my recent article Let’s Get Flexible, you can avoid workplace flip-outs and equalize your general emotional state by tapping into meditation and breathing, or even spending a tender moment with your feline companion. Master these easy tasks and you’ll be activating and regulating the type of brain chemistry that creates true leaders in business.
Building upon these practices can lend you even more control of your emotions. Just as that kitty hug can help you redirect a thought or emotion down a more beneficial neuropathway, you can also retrain that pathway to be the default going forward. It’s called neuroplasticity, and thanks to incredible advances in brain studies, we now know it to be the case.
To demonstrate this phenomenon to DRIVEN’s clients, I tell them that we’re helping them “brainwash” themselves. The result is a rewiring of the brain that sets folks up for career success, while also balancing their emotional state through all aspects of living. Let’s examine how we can all get ourselves there.
Like Water On A Hill
To better understand the process of rewiring your neuropathways, consider the “Water on a Hill” analogy. Imagine an even and newly-seeded lawn that blankets a hill. Then imagine the first rain as it haphazardly drains down this hill. Over time, subsequent rainfalls will form tiny drainageways that are barely noticeable at first. As more time unfolds, more of the rainwater defaults to these pathways, and they become deeper and more distinct. Before long, all rainwater flows down the hill using these tunnel-like drainage routes. What once was haphazard is now entirely orderly and predictable.
Compare these newly-formed drainageways to your brain’s neuropathways. Through intentional practice, you can retrain your brain. And the longer you practice, the deeper these new neuropathways become.
Snack On This
When you commit to an intentional practice like a new habit, it’s important to “bypass” the old habit. For example, you may decide you want to kick your habit of eating greasy, salty snack chips, since they always leave you with orange fingertips and perpetual thirst (not to mention an unhealthy dose of trans fats). You can choose to replace them with something healthier instead of giving up snacking altogether. Perhaps celery becomes your snack chip alternative, with its similar crunch and refreshment, minus the sticky fingers and growing waste line. To accomplish this, whenever you think “snack chips”, you alter your action and grab a stalk of celery. At first, you might need to supplement a half-bag of snack chips with some celery. A couple of weeks later you’ll motivate yourself to substitute the orange for the green after just a few crunchy triangles. Eventually, you’ll not even think about chips. Your reflex will be to start and end with the celery sticks. You haven’t erased the old habit; you’ve simply rewired your brain to detour to celery instead of junk food.
A different challenge presents itself when we think about learning to self-manage in high-stress workplace situations. Just like the conversion from snack chips to fresh vegetables, high-stakes self-management requires practice. But if trigger situations don’t arise too often, you might find it difficult forming the new neuropathways needed to transform your new skill into a habit. To solve this quagmire, understand that your brain has a hard time distinguishing between what you see with your eyes and what you visualize in your mind. MRI scans of people’s brains taken while they are watching a sunset are virtually indistinguishable from scans taken when the same people visualize a sunset.
One of the protocols you can leverage for self-management in high-stakes situations is to visualize future scenarios and then roleplay. Talk out, or write out, or imagine how you want the scene to unfold. In my next article, I’ll illustrate this self-management concept for you as we take a walk across a metaphorical bridge.