re-wiring thought patterns – hidden beliefs exposed – part four

Once upon a time, it was believed that our brains were wired by our early experiences as young children and then hard-wired by the time we reached early adulthood.  We bought into this with our exclamations of

I can’t help it, that’s the way I was born.

I’ve always been this way.”

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Neuroscience research has now discovered that our brains are much more adaptive than that.  Based on new experiences, the brain can create new neural pathways and revise current, outdated ones that are no longer useful. The discovery has come from the study of the brain’s plasticity or neuroplasticity.

 

Six-Million-Dollar-Man-six-million-dollar-man-659509_346_259

 

This not some “We can rebuild him. We have the technology” cyborg science like the Six Million Dollar Man show from the 70’s.  And it is not magic.  And it’s most certainly not the power of positive thinking that allows our brains to change and adapt.

With the discovery of the brain’s adaptability and a commitment to self-awareness, you can actually re-wire a thought pattern that is no longer useful for you into one that is more beneficial. New experiences can be elegantly integrated while old patterns are woven out of commission.

 

Re-wiring Process

1. SET THE INTENTION

Get crystal clear on your intention to re-set an unhealthy thought pattern. Clarity is key. Cloudy intentions lead to cloudy results.

2. MAKE TIME TO PAUSE

Meditation.  Take intentional tech-fasts.  Take deep breath breaks. Courageously notice unhelpful thought patterns.

3. PROCESS FOR RE-WIRING

Name the thought
Name distorted thought pattern(s) from part two of this series
Consider how and when it became anchored
Name the underlying belief
Sit with the emotions that are tied to the belief
Write out the worst-case scenario if belief didn’t change
Challenge the belief with reason, evidence and support
Consider what the new belief would need to be
Visualize new belief and write out the best-case scenario
Verbalize – repeat the new belief to rewire it into your belief system

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Does this seem like too much work?

 

 

It is work.

Unremarkable hard work.

But consider the impact of NOT doing this work.

Unexamined thoughts mean unconscious beliefs are running the show.

 

 

Sample process:

Start small.  Take a less significant pattern to put through the process.

Thought: “I must finish this book I started reading even though I’m not enjoying it.” 

Distorted Thought: Is an “all or nothing”distorted thought pattern feeding this thought? Do I have a ‘black and white’ rule about this?  Dig deeper.

Underlying Belief: Is there an underlying belief that good, strong, responsible people finish what they start?  Is there a belief that finishing something is proof of my worth?

Anchor:  Is there a childhood root in not being able to move onto something new until the first thing is finished?  Was I taught that?

Emotions:  Is there any shame attached to being “mature enough” to finish what I started?  Was there significant adult pressure in childhood to finish things?

Worst-Case Scenario: What’s the worst-case scenario if I am compelled to finish everything I start without reasonable consideration of its current benefit to me?

Challenge the Belief: Now, as an adult, is it reasonable for me to finish reading this book?  Do I have a valid reason to finish or it is simply because it is the way I was wired as a child?  It was absolutely helpful for me to learn responsibility as a child but now, as an already responsible adult, can I choose to start and finish things for a valid reason for me now?

New Belief:   As soon as I notice myself acting out of compulsion to finish something, I will re-evaluate the “why” of doing so. If it based on old, no longer useful pattern then I will begin the re-wiring by choosing a new response that I will verbalize.

Visualize:  I see myself making choices for me now, not for the much younger me who first created this thought pattern.

Verbalize:  “I am free to choose and am responsible for my choice.  There is no “must” or compulsion to do so”.

 

Making Evaluation a Habit 

1.  Start small.  Big things happen when you start with little things.

2.  Keep a record.  Recording the process creates a new anchor in the present.

3.  Start today.  It is easier to change a pattern today than it will be next year.

4.  Be reasonable.  Patterns have taken a lifetime to make and take time to re-wire.

5.  Be grateful.  Life is full of abundance and hope.  Notice the positive!

 

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the voice behind the choice

How’s your summer going?”

A variation of this question was posed to me three times, in quick succession, one afternoon very recently. I had not yet left for the summer and was working steadily to finish all the tasks left to do before I could begin my break.

Nursing a deep resentment for still being at work while most colleagues were on the golf course, at their cottage or otherwise relaxing, my reaction to this question each time was to launch into what tasks I still had yet to do and a litany of reasons why it was taking so long for me to complete those tasks, this year in particular.

I saw a similar glazed-over look that was a cross between boredom and disinterest in the eyes of each person as I spoke to them. If we had still been children, one of them surely would have rubbed their index finger and their thumb together in front of my face declaring it was the world’s smallest violin playing and that it was playing just for me.

If it had just been this one day, I could chalk it up to simply having a bad day but it was clear to me that over the past few months Moaning Myrtle was becoming a default persona so I did a little experiment to see how this would play out long term if nothing changed.

 

I’m 85 years old and I’m walking with purpose to the Saturday morning farmer’s market pulling my empty two-wheeled cart behind me. A young woman who lives on my street greets me kindly as I rush by her with my jaw set, my brow furrowed and focused on my very important business that will surely involve bartering the best price for Bartlett pears. As I pass a shopkeeper sweeping the walk in front of his store, he looks up, stops sweeping, smiles at me and asks how I’m doing on this fine morning? So I tell him how much I have to do, how I have to find time to get train tickets for next month’s visit to my son and then there’s that closet I have to get cleaned out and figure out how to the get the contents over to the thrift store. I am also sure to tell him that I didn’t get much sleep last night because the neighbours had guests over for a barbecue and they stayed until the ungodly hour of 11 pm.  As I ramble on, the shopkeeper gets the all-too-familiar look in his eyes. It is the same look I’ve seen in the eyes of my colleagues, friends and family for longer than I care to remember. 

 

Not a pretty picture. And certainly not the future I want.  For me or anyone near me.

Now the work is to look behind the repeated choice to complain and find out what underlying beliefs are informing Moaning Myrtle’s rants. What are my beliefs about hard work, about what I think I deserve and what attention I think I should get based on my perceived competence and productivity?   

And based on clarity of beliefs and tweaking any outdated or unhelpful ones, what will the new scripts be when I’m asked how I’m doing?

 

Since I am now on my summer break, I’ll have to get to that work after I go for a walk or a bike ride, have a cup of coffee on my porch, take a nap and read a book.  Moaning Myrtle’s voice is fading as she has been sent packing on a break of her own.

 

Happy Nasturtiums 2

 

By the way, my summer is starting out to be the nourishing break I needed, thank you very much for asking!

 

 

 

carved in stone

 

“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone

creates the urgency for you to prove yourself over and over”

Carol S. Dweck, PhD,

Mindset: A New Psychology of Success and Achievement

The image above is from a friend and gifted sculptor, Steve Fraser, who infuses life into stone with his work to the point that you can almost see the face he created in the stonework smiling, breathing comfortably, ever-growing in awareness and contributing to the world around him.

The reverse process of encasing life in stone does not work so well.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to be on a firm foundation in life with some consistency, some continuity to rest in.  But creating a rock-solid version of the story you tell yourself about the way things really are leaves no room for potential, mystery, poetry, hope, distress, recovery or resilience.  If your truth is already carved out then what’s the point of getting up in the morning?

Resilience in the face of turbulence calls for the courage to be creatively flexible.

What could happen if you would:

  • Listen to the thoughts you think
  • Notice the words you choose to use
  • Become aware of the emotions that arise
  • Recognize how your story sprouts directly from the frequent repetition of these
  • Believe you are absolutely creative enough to re-write several possible story lines
  • Re-script the thoughts and words to craft a stellar ending with killer plot twists!

The story grows, changes, evolves and you have a key role to play in writing the ending.

 

 

why i love my job

 

Despite the many roles I play in life, I spend most of my days at a school.   With that comes moments of “are you sure you’re cut out for this line of work” only to be balanced  with “I am one of the fortunate ones to love the work I do“.  This often surprises me because I didn’t much like adolescence the first time so never would have guessed that I’d be working with this sub-species of humans.

Adolescence is a time of remarkable growth and change. As you may know, neuro-scientists, with the help of the MRI, have discovered that the teenage brain is still actively growing in complexity and efficiency. The most profound changes occur in the area that monitors judgement, decision-making, organization, impulse-control and, wait for it, emotion.  As if I needed to tell you that!

This is a terribly confusing but also incredible time for students, parents and teachers. The potential for unparalleled learning and deep connection is right there in that amazing mess called the adolescent mind.

But how do you reach students who, by their very wiring, struggle with self-regulation, question the value of learning how to learn, can’t quite seem to connect well with others or easily loses their way in the fog of anxious uncertainty?

The answer is with resilient support.

Resilience is the art of the elegant rebound. It means getting up at least one more time than you have fallen down. And this is precisely what the administration, faculty and staff do here at my school every day here. We reach out, share, coach, advise, explain, instruct, listen, inform, engage, encourage and, occasionally, we badger. But what we do not do, is give up.  Even against the odds.

No child is unreachable. No student is unteachable.

New neural connections in the teenage brain are being made all the time so we stay the course.  We witness the acts of bravado and fragility but trust that we will prevail if we compassionately continue to communicate the power:

• of developing the practical skills of ‘learning how to learn’ and organization

• of thinking deeply and reflectively about issues facing our community and world

• of cultivating self-awareness & self-care as a crucial springboard for compassionate relating

• of growing in radical self-responsibility

 

Resilience begins with these mighty basics. This level of resilient support is modeled and offered by our  whole community through:

 

the daily greeting of students at the front door by our principal each morning
teachers who know their students by name and most know siblings’ names, out-of-school extra-curricular activities and potentially even who the student is dating!
teachers who set high academic expectations but who also negotiate assignment extensions from a place of grace and understanding
• staff who tirelessly keep the wheels of this place moving day after day, creating a space conducive to community, learning and engaging with each other
guidance counsellors who sit with, walk alongside and dig deeper with students on key personal, academic and post-secondary issues
• a Resource Centre with a vision for grounding students in the life-long strategies of learning, helping students grow in academic self-confidence and provide academic accommodations to help all learners start the race of learning at the starting line

 

We don’t give up and we don’t go away.

Resilient support for students with brains and emotions in flux.  That is what we do here. All of us together.  And because we do this even when we face personal or corporate setbacks, this is why I love my job.

 

 

 

 

exercise science lesson plan

 

 

The Kinesiology class is also known as Grade 12 Exercise Science and my visit there was in the midst of their unit on the impact of stress and anxiety on athletic performance.

I began by dividing the students into two groups. Each group elected one member to participate in a small performance task on behalf of the group.

The task was to race against the other team’s elected student to the other end of the gym, step over a bench, grab a ball, step back over the bench and race back to the starting line. It was a simple task.

The students were ramped up by the ease of the task and ready to ace the race when I interrupted their early celebration with an additional last-minute requirement.

Each team was given five pieces of paper each having a “thought” written on it that might come into any mind in preparation for any performance. Before the race was allowed to begin, a team member had to read out each thought and the whole team had to determine whether or not it was a heavy thought or a light thought.

If the thought was heavy, their racer had to carry or put on a piece of equipment to represent the weight of the thought. The equipment included goalie pads, a medicine ball, glasses that obscured vision and a chest pad that restricted movement.

 

The heavy thoughts were:

Absolutely everything is on the line here!

 Messing up right now, especially in front of all these people, will be the worst thing
  that will ever happen to me!

I won’t be the least bit surprised if I fail at this. Things like this always happen to me!

I just need to be so much better than anyone else here or I will look like a total loser!

Nothing ever changes. I always mess up eventually!

 

One team intentionally got all the heavy thoughts and the other, the light.  This meant that one racer was eventually decked out in all the weighty equipment while the other had encouraging notes randomly taped to his body. It was clear by the facial reactions to the notes being read out that these were all-too recognizable thought patterns in this age group.

 

The light thoughts were:

What a great chance to play and participate! How cool is it that I can grow my skill set      and also learn from failure?

 How can I mess up too badly if the result I want is to make a real difference in the world by participating whole-heartedly in whatever I do?

 I’m incredibly grateful for some of the amazing things I’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Comparing myself to others is a losing proposition. As soon as I compare myself to someone else, I eliminate the joy of whatever I’m doing.

When I take the idea of “messing up” out of the equation, the only way to fail is to continue to choose to focus on how others see me instead of being true to myself.
Oddly, there was less recognition and even some eye-rolling when the light notes were read out.  Patterns run deep.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out how this experiment turned out. The racer who was weighted down and had movements restricted struggled to perform even a simple task while the racer easily completed the task with his notes blowing lightly in the breeze he created as he ran.

 

The demonstration led into a discussion about how our thoughts impact our ability to perform even if that performance is not an athletic task.

It came down to:

1. Your body does not know that your mind is having distorted thoughts.
2. So your body assumes your mind is right on the mark and reacts with anxiety.
3. Distorted thoughts need to be noticed then addressed.
4. This is a skill.
5. A skill that needs to be developed with practice.

 

Athletes practice for performances all the time. They have body conditioning programs, run drills and work hard to develop important key skills related to their sport through repeated repetition.

But are the physical practices enough because when we are made up of more than just the physical? What about mind training? What about developing that mastery over thoughts that wreak havoc on self-confidence and undermine the developed physical skills during performance. Mind training is crucial for challenging distorted thinking patterns and can be helpful for any type of performance.

I then instructed the students to remove their shoes and socks and led them through a walking meditation in the gym. To introduce the idea of practicing meditation to notice their mind’s compulsion to run off on some distorted tangent was the goal of the exercise.  And even if this was only a seed planted for most of the students, it was an incredible thing to see a whole class of senior students walking silently, paying attention to their feet touching the ground and beginning the process of recognizing distorted thoughts, one step at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

one part charmer, four parts thug

 

When I was in Grade 1 or 2, our teacher had us lie down on paper that came in large rolls and take turns tracing each other. Once we had cut out along the penciled lines tracing of ourselves, we were asked to clothe it and colour it based on what we wanted to be when we grew up. The cut-out version of my 7 or 8 year-old self was crayoned to look like a nurse with a white uniform and yellow hair. At that point in my life, my career path was most likely chosen based on the kind tenderness shown to me by a nurse during a brief hospital stay as a young child.

Little did I realize that the career I had chosen would mean that I had to demonstrate increasing proficiency in math, science and would to have be open to dealing with the icky bodily fluids of others. Hmmm. Clearly, I had not thought this through and have since found out that dealing with the emotions of others is far less messy. As I climbed the grade ladder, I entertained a long list of passing career options and eventually crossed them off one-by-one because they just ‘weren’t me’. Yet I still craved to have an “I am” phrase with an occupational title following it. How neat and clean it would be to say “I am a nurse” and it would negate the need for qualifiers and explanations.

 

Children And Art 09

 

Now that I teach Careers Studies to Grade 10 students, I am having to inform my young charges that the world of work is changing and that the odds of them having an “I am” moment with a clear-cut title is being ever-reduced by the evolution of the work landscape.

Futurists predict that my students may:

  • have 10 and most likely many more than 10 careers changes in their life time
  • contract out their services instead of working for a single employer or several consecutive employers
  • work collaboratively and creatively in teams for short-term contract work (think of the numerous teams that formed for the 3 years of filming the Lord of the Rings movies)
  • let go of the ‘education first, work second’ model and will re-invent themselves continually with a life of on-going learning through formal and informal education
  • instead of having the “I am a (fill-in-the-blank)’ label, may have a long list of ‘I am’s such as ‘I am…”:

 

parent
volunteer
coach
blogger
lover
contract employee
entrepreneur
life-long learner
community builder
storyteller
traveller
weekend gardener

So how do we guide these students and help prepare them for a world where information-overload is fast and furious, distractions from paying close attention are overwhelming and their options are seemingly unlimited even in the face of their own challenges and setbacks?

 

Sand Dunes 1

To thrive in the shifting sands of building their life’s work sand castle, students absolutely need to fearlessly cultivate these three areas.

 

Self-awareness

The life-long learning required needs to involve some significant self-reflection on individual style of learning, patterns built on underlying belief systems and clarity about regular ruts, obstacles and places of getting stuck. Temperament, relational style, communication patterns, interests and even likes and dislikes need to be frequently noticed and noted. The title of this post comes from an HBO series called “Brotherhood” where brothers, a politician and a gangster, demonstrate their multi-faceted personalities that extend far beyond their mere labels and is quite fascinating. At one point, a rival tells the politician brother that he is “one part charmer, four parts thug” and, to his credit, he is already fully aware of it. Self-knowledge is key to getting where you want to go even if you don’t know where that is.  It’s necessary to see beyond only the bright and shiny side for authentic self-awareness.

 

Flexibility

In the long list of skills that can be honed and improved (Employability, Emotional Intelligence, Self-Regulation and Leadership), flexibility is represented across the board. Once self-awareness becomes a practice then flexibility is the lubricant that greases the wheel of thriving in a changing world. Like a willow tree’s branches that sway in even the strongest of winds but never break, flexibility allows for every situation to be one of learning and growth. The only constant in life is change so flexibility is key to a world of fluid ‘I am’s’.

 

Creativity

Since we cannot clearly predict what the world of work will look like in the next decade, the students of today can be instrumental in creating it. But that means embracing diversity, change and the unique role each person plays in the design of the future through the full expression of their life’s work. Economist Allan Freeman say “We need cities and towns that nurture a creative population: diverse, culturally active, a harbor for caring and mutually respectful communities in all quarters. We must invest in place. But without people, place is just an empty space. We need new ideas to invest in them.” That vision takes a open mind that continues to learn, is aware and flexible enough to cultivate creativity.

I don’t ask my students to trace themselves on paper or tell me what they want to be when they grow up. But I do ask them to delve into the areas of self-awareness, flexibility and creativity. Then, with this skill set, they can look into their own personal Viewmaster to see the options untold that are waiting to be discovered.

 

ViewMaster