We Learn by Association, We Remember by Repetition
If you are on a journey to change yourself, you have to get comfortable with the idea of repetition or continued practice of new thought loops (Thought-Feeling-Behavior) from both an intellectual and experienced perspective!
Knowledge + Experience
You may first learn about a skill or subject matter in an intellectual form, such as through reading, study or education or watching someone else perform an activity or skill. These connections are formed by gaining knowledge from other people’s experience. It is often the precursor to experience, which allows us to have an idea of what an experience will be like.
Our brain uses prior similar experience or associations to make more sense of the new information. For instance, if you were learning about how to ride a motorcycle and you already knew how to ride a bicycle, your brain would already be associating similarities into your learning. Good thing! Because if we had to start from scratch every time, it would take an awful long time to learn new things!
When we have been intellectually educated about something, we call this Philosophy.
The second stage of learning is to couple our newfound Philosophy (Semantic Learning) with Experience (Episodic Learning), creating Wisdom. Experiencing what you learned from actually performing, doing, practicing your skills will be stored in your memories with stronger synaptic connections.
A great example of this is going to school for a profession and then going into the workplace where you actually practice what you learned. The experience connections will be stored differently than the intellectual connections- they will be stronger and more memorable.
If you have experiences that involve emotions and many sensory connections, it will be stronger still! That is why we can remember experiences from our past that were highly emotionally charged or involved a lot of sensory input- like a trip to Disney World or where you were on Sept 11, 2001 when the US was attacked by terrorists.
The Process of Changing Your Brain on Purpose
You may be in a position where you would like to change your current thought patterns to create healthier habits, learn something new, or redirect your focus away from negative and into more positive attitudes.
This is possible through practice and repetition. As your brain is forming new thought patterns, the initial connections can be weak and awkward, especially when there is an absence of a strong emotional response. But with knowledge and experience, they can get stronger. Each time it is practiced, it becomes stronger and stronger. Soon it will not require focused attention, it will just be the default neural pathway.
Here is an overview of the basic steps during the process of Changing Habitual Thinking:
- Redirecting habitual thinking first starts with conscious awareness. You must know the thoughts/feeling/actions you want to change. Explore this without judgement. Get curious. What is actually going on in that brain that is a habit? Remember that thoughts create emotions that drive actions/inactions.
- Secondly, you decide what you want to think that will drive the emotion you want that will drive the action you want to take. This new thought model becomes your “intentional” model. Make sure that new thought is believable. If it is not believable, then practicing it will not be effective.
- Third, you practice your new intentional thought model intellectually. Perhaps that looks like a daily routine of reading it every morning so that in the moment of decision, you have already rehearsed the new thought to practice.
- Fourth, you practice it in the moment of decision. You evaluate your moments of decision where you don’t choose that new model and re-practice what to do next time.
- Fifth, you practice having those moments where you choose your new thought/feeling more often.
- Finally, after much time and practice living in your new thought model, you find yourself not needing to pause to think/feel/act the way you wanted to, you just do it!