Behavior Change and Neuroscience

If you want to make lasting change in your life, learn what is going on in your brain and how to harness its amazing power.

Muddy Ruts and Neural Pathways

Our brains are constantly changing. It’s not just kids, teens, and young adults. Everyone’s brain is constantly changing, trying to become more efficient. Your brain is constantly trying to process things more quickly and more efficiently. To do this, your brain creates and solidifies neural pathways. Your brain’s ability to change is called Neuroplasticity.

I’m not a doctor or an expert in neuroscience, but here’s an image that has helped my understand what what neural pathways are and how they work. I grew up on a farm, and every spring it got super muddy. When we’d drive though the mud it would create a rut, and every time we drove through the mud, in that same rut, the rut got deeper and deeper. As the rut became deeper and began to dry, the need to steer while driving through these ruts was eliminated. The walls or the ruts were so solid and high that tires could only follow the path of the rut.

Neural pathways are like dried ruts. The more you do tasks the more solidified these ruts/neural pathways become. This helps your brain conserve energy and be more efficient.

Remember how hard it was to ride a bike at first? It’s because your brain didn’t have any neural pathways established. Your brain had to process EVERYTHING, balancing, moving forward, pedaling, steering, balancing again, oh yeah and keep moving forward, and what if I crash, and watch for cars, and . . . so on. But now, you just hop on your bike and go. You don’t even think about balancing or pedaling. It’s all put on auto pilot due to these muddy ruts in your brain called neural pathways.

Changing Behavior is Like Getting Out Of A Rut

I’m amazed at the power of our neural pathways. Neural Pathways free up so much brain power. Most of us could ride a bike, chew gum, have a conversation with a fellow bike rider, enjoy the scenery, and think about how to reach our highest goals, all at the same time. This is the powerful benefit of neural pathways. Most of these tasks are on autopilot and require minimal thinking. It’s like driving in a deep rut.

But, have you ever tried to break a bad habit? It seems so hard. It’s like trying to break out of a deep, muddy rut. You can turn the wheel all you want, but you just keep slipping right back into the same old path. Getting out of a rut is hard work if you think about it; your tire has to turn into something hard, something steep, and something muddy. It’s no wonder it’s so hard to get out of a rut.

When it comes to changing our behaviors and habits, it can be tough. Our brains are resistant to change. They like to be efficient, which can be great, but also destructive.

Changing Behaviors Is Hard, and That’s Okay!

Keep in mind, changing behaviors is kind of like breaking out of one rut and creating a new rut. The current rut is taking us in one direction (a direction we don’t want to go), and the new rut will take us in a new direction, where we want to be headed.

So, when it comes to changing behaviors its important to remember that our neural pathways, the ruts, were built and solidified over time and, more importantly, repetition. Again, think of riding a bike. We got better and more natural, to the point of making it look effortless, but it took tons of repetitions and practice.

Be willing to put in the work. Realize that if you’ve done something thousands of times, you’re going to have to do the new behavior thousands of times to get out of your old rut and create a new one.

Commit to this process. Commit to practicing the new skill. Understand that it wont be easy, and that’s okay.

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