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You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

5 Steps for Change


Recent research in the neurological sciences has revealed the capacity for the brain to maintain a neuro-plastic quality to it, even in old age. Neuroplasiticty is the ability for the brain to develop new neural pathways, meaning that established neural pathways (called old habits) can be replaced. This ultimately means that elderly people can develop new habits, or in other words, adopt new ways for approaching life.

There is an adage that goes, ‘If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.’ This means that for things to change, you have to do something different. There are three fundamental reasons why we fail to do things differently: the most obvious is that we have no idea that it is possible to do things differently, or if we perceive things could be different, we don’t know how to do it differently; the second obstacle to change is finding out that we really should be doing things differently, having the knowledge of what needs to be done differently, but resist putting in the effort to change; finally, you have the knowledge and the desire, along with commitment, meaning you are trying to adopt the changes, but sustaining the effort to maintain the change gets too much, and you find yourself resorting to old habits. Add the elements of exhaustion and old age to the equation and change almost seems impossible.

So here is the science for creating new habits. It is understood that when a baby is born it has countless neurons (nerve cells) in the brain ready to be programmed by their human experience. Each individual’s unique journey of human consciousness (physical, mental and emotional) sees the brain developing neural connections in response to the stimuli of everyday living. This program sees us develop habits, or subconscious beliefs, expectations and behaviours that collectively control how we live our lives. Research has shown that in the course of an average human day, 95% of it is encountered subconsciously. In other words, we are not aware of how we live our lives. Of that 95%, typically only 30% is useful, the rest, not so. You wouldn’t want to have to learn how to walk every day, or drive a car each time you got into it.

Think about that. You are living your life from someone else’s programming. Remember, your habits evolved from your formative years and were mostly inspired by someone else, including — religion, politics, education, lifestyle, and relationships. For the majority of people, it became a case of ‘better the devil you know, than the one you don’t’. Even though how you lived your life caused dis-ease and suffering, the three challenges to change listed above meant it was too hard to change. Typically, most people go in search of a ‘magic’ pill, which is why drugs, both medicinal and recreational, are so prolific.

To develop new behaviours we have to develop new neural pathways. The first step is to recognise how your Current reality is not serving you. This requires you to identify the state of consciousness that leads to your suffering – depression, burnout, loneliness, unfulfilling employment, joyless relationships, lifestyle diseases etc. Secondly, when we are self-Honouring, we make better serving choices. This means that your suffering must be the result of poor self-worth, a belief you hold about yourself that minimises your ability to see your personal value. Poor self-worth is a catalyst for suffering. Self-honouring creates a better quality of life.

Now you want to explore a more self-loving Alternative reality, one where there is little or even no suffering. The minute you begin to imagine a more self-loving alternative reality, you begin to lay down a new neural pathway. Because of its immaturity there is high resistance, in contrast to the old habit in which there is little resistance, a bit like electrical cabling. To attract more neurons to this new pathway, it helps to give concrete Strategies for how this more beneficial reality could be achieved. Building that map adds to the new neural pathway, reducing the resistance. At the same time, whenever you follow the path of least resistance (your old habits) you will take a moment to recall how this path doesn’t serve you, and is responsible for your suffering or dis-ease. Each time you do that you effectively prune the old pathway, which heightens the resistance to pursuing that route.

There is a tipping point where the path of least resistance becomes the new neural pathway, which by now is so much more developed than the old pathway. It is at this point that you adopt your new habits with ease. The key to successful change in this final element — Mindfulness. In the past, the key to change, having established the vision of a more self-loving alternative for engaging life, was goal setting with timeframes and accountability. This has the potential for success but in the majority of cases it leads to failure. Millions of failed diets attest to it. Instead of using personal discipline and will to change your behaviour, any will exerted is in being mindful of the choice to be more self-honouring. Being mindful of the choice you then follow the path of least resistance, with awareness of the associated benefits or challenges.

To recall how to approach lasting change remember the following an acronym – CHASM

C—Current Neural Pathway: How do you really experience life now?

H—Honouring of Self: What do I believe about my worth/value that sells me short?

A—Alternate Neural Pathway: Being self-honouring, what would I want my life to look like?

S—Strategy to Bridge the Chasm: What would I have to do to live a life I love?

M—Mindfulness: Remembering that there is a self-honouring option with better benefits.

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