When you understand how neural pathways are created in the brain, you get a front row seat for truly comprehending how to let go of habits. Neural pathways are like superhighways of nerve cells that transmit messages. You travel over the superhighway many times, and the pathway becomes more and more solid. You may go to a specific food or cigarettes for comfort over and over, and that forms a brain pathway. The hopeful fact, however, is that the brain is always changing and you can forge new pathways and create new habits. That’s called the neuroplasticity of the brain.
I used to drive with one foot on the brake and the other on the accelerator, and I wanted to train myself to drive with one foot only. It took some time, as I had a strong neural pathway for two-footed driving. But because I had the will to do it, I built a new pathway, and I rewired or reprogrammed my brain. You can remove a behavior or thought or addictions directly from the brain.
Because of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ever-changing potentials, anything is possible. People who’ve had strokes can retrain their brains to function again by building new pathways. Smokers and overeaters and many others can learn new behaviors and attitudes and can transform their lives.
Whether you work with others on their habits or you work with your own (or both), you can apply these understandings to boost your success.
Some Powerful Ways to Retrain the Brain
1. Identity the habit you’d like to transform and set the intention.
You may remember the punch line “The light bulb has to want to change.” You have to have a high intention to change as well. If there is this high intention, then creating new pathways in your brain is bound to happen.
Look at feelings, thoughts, and how the body is responding to the habit, and see what results you’re creating in your life. Be the witness, and be aware.
3. Shift your focus.
This is very important. To create a new neural pathway, you take the focus off the old habit, and then that old habit eventually falls away. Don’t pay attention to the donuts and cakes. Take your awareness and focus it on good, wholesome, healthy delicious foods.
4. Use your imagination.
You can build new neural pathways not only with new behaviors, but through the imagination. Just imagine the new behaviors over and over and over. Keep repeating that in your mind so you build new pathways. Focus your mind and retrain your brain.
5. Interrupt your thoughts and patterns when they arise.
Say “no” or “cancel” when an old thought or impulse comes in, and say, “I don’t have to do that anymore.” Then turn toward the new neural pathway you’re building and keep on going in the right direction.
6. Use aversion therapy.
This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s an optional path. I like to call it “the maggots on the chocolate cake technique.” I used to love candies and sweets, and when I stopped eating them, I still had to pass by them when I walked by the candy store in town. I used aversion to train my brain to walk on by: “That’s junk,” I said to myself. “It’s made in factories, sickeningly sweet, makes me feel bad. The company makes it so sweet just to addict buyers. I don’t want any of that.” So I talk myself out of it. I’ve use it with many clients (only those who say they want it) on smoking, junk food, cocaine and many other behaviors.
7. Create a specific plan and choose what to do instead.
When you get specific, it’s easier to build new neural pathways. You “make it official.” Decide if you want to exercise instead of overeating or if you want to eat fruit instead of candy. Just keep focused on the new choice. You may want to create affirmations and anchors to reinforce your choices. This can be “I’m free or “I’m in control.” Reinforce this with energy therapies like EFT or other techniques.
8. Transform the obstacles.
Look at what’s in the way. Look at secondary gain – what you’ve been getting out of the old habits or pathways. Look at the stress in your life and how you can handle it differently. Get your mind in the place of possibility. Handle the emotions and thoughts and get on a new superhighway in your mind.
9. Connect with your Higher Source for inspiration and support.
Listen to our guidance. Know you have the Force within you, and therefore you have great power. Meditation creates new pathways and brain changes. Actual studies have been done on the brains of monks to show meditation’s effect on neural circuits of the brain.
10. Transform and make the shift.
Know that transformation is always possible and that you can create new brain pathways whenever you’re ready to make the shift. When you keep your mind in the “I can do it!” space, you get a clear sense that you’re done with the old and on a new beam now.