The Science of Habit: How to Change Your Behaviour
For the most part, January's fresh start inspires us to become better, smarter, fitter, and faster versions of ourselves. Whether it's to improve our physical or mental health, eat healthier, or spend less time on TikTok.
What is neuroplasticity?
The failure rate among us is almost 50%. Why? Because, as experts have pointed out, most of us do not engage in "self-directed neuroplasticity." What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity, or brain plasticity, is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. It is when the brain is rewired to function in some way that differs from how it previously functioned
Self-directed neuroplasticity is distinct from experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a passive process in which we reinforce habits by repeatedly doing them unconsciously, whether they are good or bad.
Here’s how the habit loop works
Cue. A stimulus or trigger occurs to you. There are many other possibilities, such as being in a specific setting, smelling a specific scent, seeing a specific individual, or experiencing a specific emotional state.
Craving. The stimulus makes you yearn for a specific result that you find satisfying. You are inspired to take action by it.
Response. To achieve that goal, you engage in certain behaviours, ideas, or actions.
Reward. The result occurs, satisfying your craving, and you experience a sense of reward as a result. The joy or relief you feel strengthens the cue, making it even more effective at inducing craving the next time. It's an endless loop because of this.
Neuroplasticity and mental health
Can neuroplasticity help with our mental health? Well, yes and no. See, mental illnesses target the same area of the brain that is needed for plasticity. However, reprogramming, which sparks and supports brain growth, may have some impact on symptoms of anxiety and depression. There are clues that support the benefits of mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and brain stimulation. Doing the work is the hard part. It helps but it isn’t a cure. There’s a lot of proverbial heavy lifting here and it can be exhausting. In some cases, it takes a lifetime to rewire the brain.
How to reduce anxiety using neuroplasticity
Meditation - According to research, meditating can help your brain grow new grey matter, which may help you better control your emotions and lessen anxiety and depressive symptoms. These apps might help.
Physical exercise - Recent studies indicate that aerobic exercise, in particular, contributes to changes in the brain's structure at all levels: molecular, cellular, and systemic. Despite the fact that researchers are still unsure of why exercise increases neuroplasticity, they do believe that it does.
Try something new - Making time for your hobbies can be a great way to take care of yourself if you struggle with anxiety, but there's also another advantage. You improve your brain's capacity to rewire itself each time you learn a new skill. For me, it was cooking. While I have enjoyed cooking for most of my life, I really started to pepper up the pot during the lockdowns. It kept me creative and my mind busy when I was, mostly, alone.
Your brain may need some time to rewire. Although rewiring your brain won't happen overnight, it may make you feel better to know that you're moving in the right direction. The biggest do-tell for me when I noticed new habits forming during quarantine was that at the end of the day, I felt accomplished and had achieved something that helped me in a positive way.