Making friends with CHANGE
Friday, April 14, 2017 109 Comments
Habits, Brain Changes & Brain Aging
Why your brain resists change
and how you can make it do what’s good for it – Part I
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Brain-Based Series
Collaboration with Jodie’s Touch of Style
“A mind equipped with a wide range of
previously formed pattern recognition devices
can withstand the effects of neuroerosion
for a long time.”
About the Brain that Changes Itself
It took science a long time to agree that an old idea was not only obsolete, but completely WRONG.
Until 1970, it was generally believed that the brain might as well be carved in stone after a certain childhood window of a great deal of change.
What is practically universally accepted these days is that our brains change and grow throughout our lives.
In fact, learning anything new after a certain age would be impossible unless the brain were capable of forming new pathways, which also involves the ongoing creation of brand new brain cells (neurons) and connections (synapses).
Another way to say it
Dr. Norman Doidge, author of The Brain’s Way of Healing and the New York Times best-seller The Brain that Changes Itself (the all-time bestselling science book in Australia) puts it this way:
Plasticity simply means that the brain can change its structure and its function depending on what it does.
And that means, depending on what we react to when we’re sensing and perceiving, our brains will “rewire” depending on the actions that we commit ourselves to, and most intriguingly, depending on what we think and imagine.
ALL of these things can change the structure of the brain.
More about Doidge here: The Brain Science Podcast Turns TEN!
HOWEVER, since the brain is, essentially, a pattern-recognition organ, most human beings kick and scream when we are forced to change. Many of us who would like to change – maybe even those of us who are eager to change – struggle still.
Change is not easy
Change requires our conscious attention to doing things differently. Consciousness is a resource-intensive process. Your brain REALLY doesn’t want to burn up those resources dealing with the same information and making the same decisions over and over again.
Brains like the easy-to-pattern-match same ole/same ole, despite the fact that it’s not particularly good for them long term.
Even though it’s a huge help to put what I like to call the treadmill tasks on autopilot (like laundry, dishes and dusting) – a practice I highly recommend – that old saw about variety turns out to be an understatement where moving through the rest of life is concerned.
Unless spices are the main ingredients in the meals at your house, you are underestimating the importance of change to healthy brain functioning over your entire lifetime.
And still, we resist
Almost ALL of us, ADD/EFD or not, have a small – perfectly “normal” – part of our personalities that balks unless a new idea or different manner of approaching a change in something familiar is totally appealing in the moment we are “supposed” to take it on. Why?
As I began in an earlier article, Change, Growth and Decision Dilemmas, it is essential to understand a fundamental, psychological truth about all human beings, ADD/EFD or not.
We are conflicted about growth and change.
At bottom, most of us crave safety as strongly as we crave freedom and adventure, although not in equal measure at all times and about all things.
The fact remains that there is a conflicted relationship between making choices at all – and new choices in particular – and preserving the freedom to do whatever we want. To escape the discomfort of the conflict, it is all too tempting to fall back on “the devil we know” – and so we usually do.
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Biology is NOT destiny
Not where your brain is concerned it isn’t, anyway.
All of your thoughts, behaviors and actions were set in motion by the genes you inherited from your parents, which determined to a large extent how your brain was “wired” from birth. But it turns out that a most important predictor of how you function throughout life and as you grow old is how your brain re-wires as you age
How you are “wired” initially isn’t what you’re stuck with – or blessed with – forever. That’s what is meant when scientists and science bloggers say that “genes are expressed in environment.”
Genes are merely blueprints,
and plasticity is like the engineers who make on-site changes.
It is important to note that plasticity is a two way process — it can improve or degrade any ability. We know now that outside influences can, metaphorically, “turn genes on and off,” changing pathways in your brain — for better or for worse!
For example, influences like the following:
- nutrition and diet – before and after birth
- substance abuse, especially exposure in the womb
- home environment growing up
- physical or emotional trauma
- our various social environments as we age
- education – early and throughout life
- good and bad partnerships
- and more
Epigenetics – changing how genes are expressed
Epigenetics is the scientific term for the study of how your internal and external environments change the expression of your genes. In addition, all of these influences combine to determine how individuals interpret incoming and new influences going forward.
A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Ecology highlights dozens of studies showing epigenetics guides rapid adaptation. But, but, but . . .
To effect change you must embrace change
I’m sure you have heard this one: If you do what you’ve always done you will get what you’ve always gotten. Would that it were always true – especially if you like what you’ve always gotten.
For most of us, however, doing what we’ve always done is a recipe for functional backsliding – unless we are very, very lucky.
Imagine a town with a fixed number of interconnecting roads – a limited number of ways to get from where you are to where you want to go.
If anything happened to make any part of the route you normally travel inaccessible, you’re pretty much stuck.
As annoying as those detour signs can be, aren’t you also grateful that there IS a detour?
So it is with your brain. Change forces the brain to create new “roads” it can use when its usual pathway is damaged by any one of a number of things: stroke, concussion, medication, chronic stress – whatever.
But don’t take MY word for it
The famous Nun Study has shown us that healthy brain aging doesn’t happen by accident. To repeat some text from an earlier article [You don’t HAVE to lose it as you age: Moving Past Mind-Blips and “Senior Moments”]:
Upon autopsy, even some of the nuns discovered to have what used to be accepted as “positive Alzheimer’s identifiers” (senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles), managed to escape the behavioral devastation of the disease.
Others had only recently begun to exhibit signs of mental decline in the year or two before their deaths (at 80 and beyond), despite brains that would have predicted a significantly earlier onset of dementia.
The nuns who remained vital and cognitively nimble remained intellectually and physically active, intentionally exposing themselves to new learning opportunities throughout their lives. Their brains had built a great many pathways they could use to get them where they wanted to go, behaviorally.
Over the next week, I will be collaborating with Jodie’s Touch of Style.on a series of articles over at
Together we will demonstrate how playing with what we choose to wear – recombining items we already own or adding something inexpensive to alter the look – can be a terrific way of making friends with change.
Jodie blogs with her mom, Charlotte (the 70’s model on her posts) and her stepmom, Nancy (the 60’s model), while she models similar looks for those in their 50s. We even plan to include some looks that adapt ideas from a younger fashion blogger to add to the fun.
I hope you will join us as she experiments with different styles, demonstrating that style is ageless – while I explain how forcing yourself to try on new looks is actually good for your brain!
On other posts her husband Rob contributes a few fun looks from his closet too, illustrating that wardrobe change isn’t only something for the females on the planet! So stay tuned.
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You might also be interested in some of the following articles
available right now – on this site and elsewhere.
For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
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— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —
Related articles right here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com
(in case you missed them above or below)
- Brain-based Coaching with Madelyn Griffith-Haynie
- Group Coaching Information LinkList
- Private Coaching Formats & Fees
- Change, Growth and Decision Dilemmas
- Brain-hacking – Moving Beyond the Brain you were Born With
- Slow-cooking Change
- Cognitive Impairment and Dementia Protection
- Cognitive Inflexibility and the Cingulate Gyrus
Other supports for this article
A Few LinkLists by Category (to articles here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com)
- The Optimal Functioning (Challenges) Series of articles
(about the Inventory & articles from each category)
Related Articles ’round the net
- Doidge, Taub, Merzenich and the Dalai Lama talk Neuroplasticity
- East meets West as neuroscientists, Dalai Lama discuss healing and change at UAB symposium (slides)
- How Your Environment Hacks Your Genes for You
- Gene-Environment Interaction – DevelopingChild.Harvard
- How our thoughts control our DNA
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