Friday, February 20, 2009

You Are What You Think and Do

If you google "habit brain" you can come up with any number of hits relating habits to neurobiology. These range from the popular self-help pieces to scholarly articles. Just a few here. More scientific evidence that Charlotte Mason was on target with her thoughts that habits form pathways in the brain. All this is very interesting to me. I had always half-wondered if CM's concepts about the physiology of habits had gone the way of phrenology but it appears not.

From The Thinking Business: Thinking Habits you find:

"You are what you think!"
This quote is scientifically proven to be true! The neural pathways discussed earlier in the tour, create patterns of thought.. Once these pathways are created, the thoughts are likely to be repeated. This is because, the repetition of a thought decreases the biochemical resistance to that thought happening again and the connections between to brain cells on the neural pathway become stronger.
From Break Bad Habits in 14 Days you find:

But how exactly do you turn lifelong bad habits inside out? How do you get over the rationalization and justification that lead to small unhealthy decisions that rack up toward an increasingly unhealthy, unhappy-about-it you?

Dr. Rice says it takes as little as 14 days to "rewire your brain" or create new brain pathways that make habits easier to follow, so the habits become more effective and long-lasting. Will it be hard? Yes. But "the mind is much more powerful that we've ever given it credit for," he says. "Wellness is an integration of mind and body, and allowing yourself to change for the better" is the first step. But you have to be honest with yourself. If you define yourself prematurely, you won't be able to change the behavior.

(this article goes on to list several specific steps to replacing a bad habit with a good one)

On a grimmer note, "Brain researchers explain why old habits die hard"

Habits help us through the day, eliminating the need to strategize about each tiny step involved in making a frothy latte, driving to work and other complex routines. Bad habits, though, can have a vise grip on both mind and behavior. Notoriously hard to break, they are devilishly easy to resume, as many reformed smokers discover.
And in Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

HABITS are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on auto-pilot and relaxing into the unconscious comfort of familiar routine. “Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd,” William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. In the ever-changing 21st century, even the word “habit” carries a negative connotation.

So it seems antithetical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.
Some Habits of Mind are listed here. A lot of these, I notice, are to do with the executive function mentioned in earlier links, which has to do with the prefrontal cortex. But keep in mind that this frontal lobe does not fully mature until about age 25, according to what I have read. And it increases in richness in later maturity. So I'm taking that to mean that children won't display these traits consistently and richly and that this is normal. We are looking for plantings of habits, not the full fruit of them, at these younger ages, and particularly if our child happens to have a learning disability, patience and tact is important.

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