How to Rewire Your Brain for Change

Your change efforts could be making things worse. If you don’t do it right, you will strengthen the habit you are trying to break. Here’s the 3-step process Neuroscientists recently discovered to rewire your brain to change your life.

“You can’t can teach an old dog new tricks.”

Science is discovering new ways in which we can rewire our brains for change. Neuroscientists used to explain that our difficulty in learning new “tricks” was due to our brains not continuing to physically develop during adulthood. The wiring in our brains, they thought, was established and not changeable after early adulthood. They were wrong.

New research shows our brains can change—even in adulthood. We can literally rewire them.

Jeffrey Schwartz, a research psychiatrist at UCLA School of Medicine, has done fascinating and conclusive research on self-directed neuroplasticity (change) of the brain. His recent, practical book is, You Are Not Your Brain: The Four Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life.

How Your Brain Works

Your brain is like a circuit board with impulses shooting from neuron to neuron along pathways called synapses.

Let’s try it. If I say “chocolate,” what came to mind? “Let’s eat!” you think. The thought of chocolate started in one neuron and shot across a synapse to your response neuron. Synapses are like muscles, the more you use them and the bigger they grow.

The trouble is our thinking forms ruts, like deep ruts in a road. When the synaptic pathway is well-formed it is difficult for us to respond in new ways. Like trying to steer a car out of ruts, it is so much easier to respond in our old ways. This is why habits are so difficult to break.

The solution, neuroscientists say, is to form new pathways and strengthen and enlarge new, preferred thoughts. In other words, change your mind and literally rewire your brain.

“Stop It” Doesn’t Work

When you focus on not doing something, you are still sending impulses along the old pathway, strengthening it further. The more you focus, even negative attention, on that pathway, the stronger it grows.

Negative self-talk strengthens, not weakens, the old pathway. Making change all the more difficult.

3 Steps to Rewire Your Brain for Change

Here’s how to change: move from what you want to change, to how you want to be. The key is to focus on the new thought or behavior to strengthen that new neural pathway. The pattern is significant.

1. Recognize what you want to change.

  • What specific thought or behavior would you like to change?
  • What reasons do you have to change?
  • Why change now?

2. Refocus on the new.

  • What would you like to change it to? Be specific.
  • What would it look like?
  • How will you know when you have achieved it?

3. Revalue how the change will benefit you.

  • What benefits will you receive from the new?
  • How will you feel?
  • What will make this change worth it?

Change means renewing your mind. Begin by deciding you will change from something to something else. Then focus your attention on the new way of being until that forms a strong pathway.

You must focus on the new long enough to strengthen the new while the old shrivels and weakens. Reinforce the new by being around others who live the change you desire. Just seeing them further strengthens you.

Question: What have you done to successfully change? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    11 thoughts on “How to Rewire Your Brain for Change

    1. Hello, how long do you think it takes to form a new pathway / habit? I was quoted 21 days before but apparently that is an urban myth.

    2. Hey Keith, once again, I want to manifest my appreciation for your dedication to this blog and the high quality posts. I love the way you simplify things and keep it practicable. By the way, do you have any post that establish the diference between ‘CHANGE’ and ‘TRANSFORMATION’? If not, what about this be a subject for future post? Be blessed!

      • It would be a good topic for a post! I see change is different, but not in essence. I see transformation as foundational disruption from the previous. It’s the difference in results from a wife saying of her husband, “He’s made some positive changes recently.” to “He’s a new man.” Transformation usually involves shifts in mindset and paradigm.

    3. Thanks for posting this. I am working a lot with fixed and growth mindset scenarios and this is really helpful. It’s nice to know about fixed and growth mindset but it’s more difficult to really change it. This article gives some good insights.