Tag Archives: change

You Need Education, not Motivation

Your hand swings up from your side to grab your phone and shut off the music. It was your favorite song, now you hate it. “What was I thinking? A good song isn’t going to miraculously give me the energy to get up and out of this bed.” It’s 7:00; time to wake up. Actually already later than the time you should be getting up. Yet, you simply just can’t. You set the timer on your phone. 3 minutes. Because maybe in three minutes you’ll have the motivation to rise up and face the day. You roll back over, knowing full well it is wishful thinking. Hey… at least it’s 3 more minutes of delaying the inevitable.
Neuroplasticity, for all its positive attributes, has a dark side in the form of bad habits, monotonous routines, and personal, motivation1professional ruts to name a few.  Maybe it’s motivation to get up in the morning and go to work, or  spend time with friends, or go to the gym. Perhaps you feel stuck in a bad habit like an unhealthy relationship or smoking or drinking more than you should. Often times when these dark forms take over your life, they do so at such a slow, sneaky pace, you fail to notice until a friend makes a comment about your mood, behavior, health, or weight. You immediately jump to your own defense; however, later you take a long hard look into a literal or figurative mirror and a wave of panic and self-realization washes over you: she was right. Your mind flips and begins scanning for solutions to this problem. You select the only answer that could possible explain how you have landed in this inexcusable place: You have NO motivation. Obviously this is the problem.

But, what is motivation? Why is it not always the answer?

Motivation can be defined as “the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something” Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Therefore, it is easy to assume that people need motivation in order to make a change, since typically people don’t change without a reason. Reasons may include a health scare, vanity, sick or being sick and tired of being sick and tired. Why even with reasons pushing people to change, is change still so difficult? Let’s take a look at what is happening in the brain when people are motivated. A study conducted by Mathias Pessiglione and a team of researchers at INSERM, found that the  ventral striatum was a general motivational system in the depths of the brain. The ventral striatum was activated during both physical and cognitive activities when participants were incentivized or motivated 2000px-Dopamine_pathways.svgwith money. Additionally, the level of activation showed a positive correlation with increased incentives. This essentially means the more motivating the reward, the more the ventral striatum was activated.  However, further studies have shown the involvement of dopamine in motivation is quite complex. Dopamine is released into the nucleus accumbens when people have near-successes as well as when they are successful–this occurrence plays a role in addiction.  Additionally, the nucleus accumbens is activated when people are motivated to avoid unpleasant experiences as well. Now let’s add one more blockade to our motivation to change. Researchers at CalTech and UCLA learned that different areas in the brain are activated when people are thinking about how to do something than when they are thinking about why they are doing something. Additionally, the areas in the brain do no appear to fire simultaneously and actually have shown a negative correlation in activity. In short, you need more than motivation to make a change.

Not having motivation and knowing this, is one step closer to change, however; relying on the factors that supposedly will motivate you to change may lead you nowhere except down the same path. If you focus too much on the how, the brain cannot   move onto the why; if you focus too much on the why, the brain cannot plan the how. Furthermore, the mere talking, thinking or move towards change may be enough change for dopamine release and an activated nucleus accumbens, which in your brain is enough to lead to a sense of satisfaction.

“If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.” Jim Rohn

How can you use motivation to change?

The answer is unglamorous and gruesome: you can’t. Change takes more than motivation.  It takes work–cumbersome, agonizing work. You will be miserable, hate your life, those around you and pretty much everything related to the change you are trying to make. In addition, you will begin being haunted by reminders of change. All of this a direct result of the very comfortable habit loop you have essentially disrupted. In other words, the dark side of neuroplasticity.

But here’s the lesson: If you push through and put in the work, motivation will come. It will also sustain the new healthy habit you developed because once the change occurs, dopamine as a reward system will kick in when you engage in that new behavior.  Your brain, body and mind will begin craving the new healthy habits because the synaptic connections are now wiring and firing together in addition to the other positive outcomes gained from the change in behavior. Motivation alone won’t  change your behaviors. Instead, educate yourself on how to change and use those motivating factors to help you persevere to see that change through.

Your hand swings up from your side to grab your phone and shut off the music. It was your favorite song, now you hate it. “What was I thinking? A good song isn’t going to miraculously give me the energy to get up and out of this bed.” It’s 6:00; time to wake up. I really don’t want to, but unless I do, I never will. Change is hard, but I know now it won’t always be this difficult to wake up in the morning. I just need to push through one day at a time and the motivation will come.

Change Your Brain; Change your Life and Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Is your new year a blank canvas…

With the end of 2014 looming near, and 2015 appearing like a beautiful blank canvas, or dark vacuous black hole, regardless of perspective, resolutions for the new year always emerge. It may be to brush them off and refuse to make even one or to enter the new year with a list of 10 fully intent on keeping every one. Even with the best of intentions, resolutions are difficult to keep because change is hard. It may help to understand why change is so difficult, then steps can be taken in order to counter the brain’s resistance to change and perhaps the realistic resolutions on that list of 10 can be kept.

or a black hole?

It’s now common knowledge that  brains are plastic and have the ability to change. This change is called neuroplasticity Dr. Doidge explains in his book The Brain that Changes Itself that scientists began seeing “if certain ‘parts’ [of the brain] failed, then other parts could sometimes take over.” However, neuroplasticity not only plays a role when areas in the brain are damaged. It is essentially the basis of all hardwired habits: good and bad. The common phrase reads: neurons that fire together wire together. That wiring together forms the near unconscious behavior that often leads to self admonishment or accolades: the mindless hand movement to eat one more fry, even after feeling full, the compulsory turning off the alarm clock to sleep for 9 more minutes, the turning to go to the gym, even after a 10 hour work day, or the grabbing a bottle of water instead of soda when thirst calls.   Therefore, unwiring or unlearning the bad habits and rewiring the good habits will be the ticket to the annual question: How long before the New Year’s Resolution is broken?  A day? A week? Two weeks?  Use the principles of neuroplasticity, and the Charles Duhigg’s Habit Loop and the response may be 12 months, 2 years, forever.

Charles Dughigg’s Habit Loop

Step 1. Identify a craving; this is essentially the reward.

Step 2. Create or uncover a cue, which will lead to Step 3.

Step 3. Establish or change or a routine so the craving/reward is met.

Charles Duhigg calls this The Habit Loop: Cue, Routine, Reward.  When completed consistently over time, neuroplasticity is the result. The neurons firing together during this three-step process, become wired together and the ‘habit’ becomes automatic. The length of time for a new habit to become just that is dependent upon the source. Decades ago, people misinterpreted Dr. Maltz’s 21 days, which has become the most common number, others say repeat a behavior like working out 10 days in a row and it will become a habit. Charles Duhigg stated that his new habit took a few weeks; however he took many weeks to identify the source, test out new routines and so on. Overall, these numbers are a bit liberal. Phillippa Lally at the University of College London, found that it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit. The average length of time was 66 days for the behavior to become automatic.  Additionally, it was noted that missing a day or two throughout did not negatively impact the formation of a new behavior. What did affect the time to habituate a behavior was the complexity of the behavior, the behavior of the person and additional environmental circumstances.

Going back to New Year’s Resolutions, begin by identifying the bad habits to kick this year or the good habits to begin. That bad habit or good habit is the routine. In order to change that routine, the reward needs to be identified. For example, smoking is a routine; the reward could be socializing with coworkers during a cigarette break,

New Year’s Resolutions are habits in disguise.

taking a break from the job, relaxing. According to Charles Duhigg, it may take some experimenting in order to identify the reward, pick 2-3 possibilities to try. Next find the cue. When does the habit kick in? Is it a specific time? Event? Person? After the cue is identified replace new routines that address the hypothesized reason for the ‘bad habit.’ Afterward, determine if the reward or craving achieved by the bad habit has been achieved with the good one. If so, keep trying it out for a few weeks; if not, try another new routine until the reward has been met.

Once the new routine is ready; a new habit can be formed and the 66, 18 or 254 days or some number in between can begin. Remember, a few missed days here and there does not equate with failure or having to start over.  The brain is plastic and just as neurons take time to wire together, they take time to unwire. Given this information, Charles Duhigg’s few weeks is in fact possible, just not common.

Keeping your New Year’s Resolutions is changing your brain, which can change your life. Deciding to change and taking that first step is the most challenging. People often pick the first day of the New Year to begin, but it is never too early or too late to change. The brain is after all plastic and will change at anytime when the effort is put in. Hopefully that cliché has a little more clarity and the first step will lead to 65 more.

What brain changes will you make this year?

Happy 2015! Here’s to a New Year and a New You.