Monday, October 24, 2011


Is this good news for the field of psychology?  We have been often told that we can develop new thought patterns and new habits from anywhere from 21 days to 3 months, depending on which "Guru" you believe.  

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) has been popularizing this concept quite a lot lately. This includes motivational speakers like Tony Robbins.  (Warning:  NLP is not without its strong detractors. Listen carefully to their views before you make up your mind. In my experience, they often snatch ideas from other psycho-therapeutic modalities and claim them as their own.)

It is really possible?  Neuroplasticity is the latest buzzword in believing in change.  Have you heard about it ? Do you believe it?  

There is evidence to support this theory; though I doubt that such changes are usually accomplished in such short time spans.  It sounds positive and hopeful, and perhaps that, in itself, can be a boon to the field of Psychotherapy (and Coaching)

Article from:
by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

"If you’ve been following recent developments in the field of psychology or neuroscience or if you’ve been following my postings, you’ve heard the term neuroplasticity before.

This term refers to the discovery in recent years that the brain is actually malleable throughout the lifespan and we have the ability to grow new neural connections. This has tremendous implications for our mental health and anything that has to do with human training, both hopeful and detrimental.

Now, this isn’t the first time this idea has come up. In the late 1800s, Freud hypothesized about this calling it the law of association by spontaneity, and in recent years neuroscientists have come up with the catchy saying, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

In other words, how and what we pay attention to has tremendous implications for how our brains grow.

Or as Dan Siegel and Rick Hanson have been saying, we can use our minds to shape our brains to help our minds. Read that over a few times, the clouds will begin to clear up.

I was just at a UCLA psychotherapy conference with psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, author of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, and he made it very clear that the advent of neuroplasticity isn’t all good news.

He has the analogy of a mountain with fresh powder being the brain. The more often we ski down the mountain, the more snow packs on certain trails. As we continue to ride over those trails over and over again, the faster we begin to go down those trails.

In other words, the more we practice reactivity to our fears (e.g. from small fears to PTSD), the stronger the neural connections in our brains become that make us more likely to be automatically reactive to our fears. Or, the more often we practice automatic negative thinking, the stronger the neural connections become that lead to more automatic reactivity toward automatic negative thinking.

The other part of this news is that our brains are wired to look for danger and pay more attention to the unpleasant than the pleasant. If I were to pay you 10 compliments and then say something judgmental or critical, you are more likely to remember and ruminate about the judgment than the compliments. As you practice this, your reinforce the neural connections that reinforce the auto-pilot reaction.

So, this is where mindfulness comes in: the practice of nonjudgmental awareness to the present moment. We can have an understanding of how our brains operate and see the automatic reactivity for what it is. When we do this, we are present and can make a choice to pay attention differently and rewire our brains.

We can begin to notice pleasant events too, and in order to balance the brain’s tendency to focus on the negative more often, we can bring mindfulness to the pleasant event. What does this mean? This means really tasting in the moment how the body feels, what emotions are present, and what thoughts are here. Maybe there’s a sound and beginning to close the eyes and listen. Beginning to rest in the moment or linger for a bit longer, soaking it in. That’s all, it’s a practice.

If at the end of the day you automatically remember more unpleasant than pleasant, take another look and ask yourself, where were the pleasant moments today? This is not to discount the unpleasant, but more to bring about some balance as it is the brains tendency to give more weight to the unpleasant for evolutionary and adaptive reasons.

So, be aware that our brains are constantly being shaped and when we are present, we have more choice as to how and what we’d like to pay attention to for a healthier brain, which in turn will create a healthier mind. This has implications for how we react to stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, parenting, and certainly in our relationships."

Mindfulness is an ancient, but relatively recently studied subject in psychotherapy.  There appears to be much evidence for its efficacy; however, jumping into any program espousing Mindfulness can be dangerous without accurate and careful mentor-ship.  Just like any practice of meditation...

...we need to be careful to choose one that uses the time-honored methods and work at it.  Good rarely comes easily.  It seems every good has a negative side, a trap, of which we should be aware.

Mindfulness is a "revolutionary" concept helping people heal from depression, anxiety, and various other mental illness ailments.  There is much evidence to show that it is successful in helping people, especially those with anxiety disorders.

Check Jon Kabat Zinn's book on Mindfulness.  It will tickle your brain receptors.  (Warning:  Do your homework before you delve into a Mindfulness program.)


No comments: