According to Michael Merzenich from the book The Brain that Changes Itself, practicing a new habit under the right conditions, can change hundreds of millions and possibly billions of the connections between the nerve cells in our neural pathways. The human brain is made up of an estimated 100 billion neurons making a total of 100 trillion neural connections. In our counseling practice we help clients utilize the top four conditions for supporting neural plasticity.
1. Positive Emotion
PRACTICE: Do something everyday that you enjoy. While you are engaged in this good feeling activity, focus on the feelings of achieving your goals and intentions.
2. Repetition and Practice
Neural pathways are strengthened into habits through the repetition and practice of thinking, feeling and acting.
PRACTICE: Start your morning passionately declaring aloud your goals for the day. Declarations send the power of your subconscious mind on a mission to find solutions to fulfill your goals.
Visualization is almost as powerful as the real thing given your brain cannot tell the difference between something real or imagined. Research shows that anytime you are thinking you are engaging and thus conditioning neural pathways. Consequently, whether you are reminiscing about the past, thinking about the present or anticipating the future you are strengthening the neural networks associated with whatever you are thinking about. The most important part of using visualization to strengthen healthy habits is to engage your emotion. Emotion provides the fuel to enlist more neural power for creating powerful neural networks.
PRACTICE: Spend 10-15 minutes per day visualizing yourself achieving your goals. This should be so vivid, dynamic and pleasing that it easily engages positive emotion.
The true masters of manifesting meditate daily. When you meditate you slow down the nonsense, ungrounded chatter of the busy mind and access the calm abiding wisdom of your inner awareness and the skill of laser focus. Meditation is the process of relaxing the body and quieting the mind. In order to tap into the benefits of neural plasticity you have to disengage the stress response and stimulate the relaxation response. When you are stressed your brain rigidly defers to the strongest neural pathways out of survival and the path of least resistance. Consequently, during stress you do not have access to newly formed neural networks because they have not been tried and proven yet. Most people live in a perpetual state of stress believing feeling tense, time pressured or overwhelmed is the norm. This is simply not true and is the result of an undisciplined mind and body.
PRACTICE: Spend 10 minutes each day sitting still while focusing on your in-breath and out-breath. Retrieve your mind anytime it wanders onto anything but your breath. Meditation is the highest form of mental training that disciplines the mind to focus on what you want and allows the nervous system to bring about homeostasis.
Coaching and Counseling
Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness. If you are interested in learning the answers to the most frequently asked questions on how to decrease stress and increase happiness sign up for their free video series.