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The Brain, Change and Your Health
A New Series of Articles about your health sponsored by
Healthiest You, a health promotion company and US Healthiest
Can people change, really change? The answer is YES. Your brain IS fully capable of change and, in fact, changes throughout your entire life. Yes, you can improve on what you are good at and even learn to do things you thought were impossible. In fact, as you learn and practice new behavior, your brain changes both functionally and structurally. When people modify their behaviors or even thoughts, the brain develops new fledgling pathways that can be seen after just a few weeks. After about 8-12 weeks these pathways are fairly well established, making it easier to continue this new behavior. Your brain is quirky, however, about how it can be most easily changed. Dr Kelly Traver reviews the latest understandings of the brain in her book, The Program, and shows how to use these new understandings of the brain to help people achieve their health goals. But remember, just as you can build new pathways, you can lose them if you don’t maintain them so you need to continue to practice the new habits you’ve created.
Small, Steps, Big Strides and a Healthier You!
Although your brain can change, it usually won’t do so without putting up a bit of a fight. That’s because it is set up to resist change. Your brain operates under the same principle as your body: homeostasis. That is, keeping everything the same. It’s like your brain is saying “Okay, I got you here with this behavior and you’re alive so just keep doing what you’ve been doing.” Your brain will therefore automatically resist a sudden change. In fact, the stress response fires when you try to make too big a change too fast. But if you ask your brain to make a small change, this doesn’t happen. For this reason, slow, gradual steps toward your goal lead to faster and more sustainable results than trying to do too much all at once. Small steps lead to very big outcomes over time.
Defining Your Health Aspirations
The first step to better health is of course, to define your health aspiration. Do you want to lose weight? Increase your fitness or energy? Improve your mood or achieve better balance in life? First, set your vision. Next, break this larger aspiration into smaller steps. Make sure these steps are SMART steps. That is, Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Time-Specific. That is, if you want to increase fitness, you might set as a small step “I will reach 10,000 steps on my pedometer every day this week”. Or if you are working on weight loss you might say “I will not eat any sweets or desserts this week”. It’s better to define the action or behavior you are going to be doing rather than the outcome (such as losing two pounds that week) because you can control the action but not always the outcome.