Monday, May 14, 2012

Neurosmash the Negative Self-Talk Habit?

"The Amygdala Made Me Do It," says James Atlas in his 5/13/12 article in the Sunday NYTimes Review. He describes the recent plethora of neuroscience books as "the invasion of the Can't Help-Yourself" books, which made me laugh. He cited Imagine, Thinking, Fast and Slow, and Subliminal as books that tell us we have little or no control over our brains, our will — most of what's going on is unconscious. "We are not masters of our fate; we are captives of biological determinism."

For anyone who is big on the new stuff about brain plasticity and the old stuff about lifelong learning and self-improvement, who likes change and challenge, the theme of the "There is No Self-Help for Thinking, Decision Making, or Free Will" books is downright dispiriting.

Fortunately I had started reading Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit. It too is a neuroscience based book, but it proposes that there's hope in changing habits, but it's not easy — of course. His simple and clear explanation of the habit loop reminds me of Pavlovian training and the later behavior modification theories developed from dogs and bells, rats and shocks.

• a cue — a trigger tells the brain to go into automatic mode and find the right route to the right routine
• a routine — the neural pathways light up, showing the way for the physical, emotional, and/or mental response to the trigger/cue
• a reward — the outcome of the routine, the positive reward, helps the brain decide whether to remember the loop for the future

Duhigg makes the point that the brain undertakes the same performance whether the habit is good or bad. No discernment takes place. He  points out that habitual patterns often exert more influence on our behavior than intelligence or common sense. And they can be rewired; not broken or detonated, dissolved, or diluted. They endure forever. BUT, a stronger habit pattern can be established, with a different cue, routine and reward, which overrides, the previous pattern.

Next post will look at how Duhigg's book might contribute to weakening the negative self-talk habit. I might have to change the title of my book project from Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit to : Neurosmash NST.

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