“Ruts in the brain”: Driving successful change (part 5 of 5)

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...
Brain scanning technology is quickly approaching levels of detail that will have serious implications (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past several weeks, I have been writing a series of blog posts on how to plan and manage successful change. This is the final  installment in the series of 5 steps I laid out, and as such contains some final thoughts about pulling it all together and holding ourselves accountable to whatever change program we commit to. Recall, the 5 steps are:

  1. Tuning your language, setting the goal, and visualizing success;
  2. Describe your starting point, formalize the gap;
  3. Set out milestones and personal rewards;
  4. Designing and building habits for success;
  5. Pulling it all together and holding yourself accountable.

So, let’s recap where we are right now: At this point, we have (Step #1) articulated our actual goal, visualized it with lots of supporting detail, and are working daily to “tune our language” so we are focused on positive attributes and positive language. In Step #2 we  honestly took stock of where we are today by deciding on some critical metrics we are prepared to hold ourselves accountable to,  measuring our starting point to fully understand the size of the gap between “now” and “our desired future”. With Step #3  we laid out a step-wise path forward towards our goal and decided on some meaningful things that we would reward ourselves with along the way to celebrate our change and help us keep moving forward. And most importantly, we decided on a small number of daily/weekly metrics we were prepared to maintain to measure our progress on a regular basis. Finally, with Step #4 the rubber actually hit the road as we started experimenting with our daily habits to see how we could best absorb some new, desired behaviors and possibly replace “bad” habits with better ones.

(You do remember doing all this with your own goals, don’t you…?)

Our challenge now is to keep at it. Keep working, and keep experimenting with our routines to figure out what moves us forward towards our goal. And do more of that. That’s all there is to it — it is really no more (or less!) than that. And here is where we discover that 3 things — time, our attitude, and the habits we choose to focus on — are either going to be our best friends in helping us succeed, or our biggest enemies. And we get to choose what that looks like — every hour, every day — with every little decision we make about what’s important to us in the moment. Now. When it counts most. Couch or walk? Shout or shut-up? Criticize or ask more questions? Our choice. Choose wisely.

With the benefit of time, a little bit of discipline, and a general game plan, we can accomplish amazing things. Learn new skills. Build better relationships. Get healthier. Whatever it is we really want to do, we can do it. We just have to put in the work. Regular work. Every day. Every week.  It’s all about designing new “ruts” in our brains. Quite literally. Our habits, good and bad, are neural networks in our brain and as we exercise certain pathways — through daily use — we reinforce those pathways to the eventual exclusion of other possible paths. However we can, through daily discipline, make new “ruts” in our neural networks and build new habits, whatever we want those to be.

It’s exactly like making a new path in the deep snow or the tall grass. The first time through is a lot of work. And if you don’t go back and follow that path the next day, then the work you did earlier to make the path fades away. However if you persevere daily, that new path starts to become familiar, and easier to walk, and better and more deeply worn. Before too long, it’s now not a new path — it’s just THE path. It’s the easy, convenient, natural path to walk. To wherever you are trying to get to.

Your daily workout, your evening walk, your better eating habit, your attention to becoming a better listener, your commitment to asking better questions — it’s all the same. Whatever your new desired habit, it’s really nothing more than making a new rut in your brain. It’s a new path in the tall grass. The more you walk it, the more you practice it, the easier and more natural it becomes.

And along the way you’ll discover — since it is of course your plan and your path towards your goal — that there are some nice surprises along the way. All those rewards you promised yourself for sticking to your plan, and walking your path. Enjoy them. You’ve earned them.

And remember to take a moment from time to time to look back along the path you’ve traveled and really see how far you’ve come. You’ll be amazed. And then keep moving forward because, still ahead of you, the best is yet to come.

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