We made it! Summer is here, and we get another opportunity to regroup! Our summers pass quickly, I know, but I’ve just learned something new that will help us use our time most enjoyably while creating big change for personal good. After reading the most recent edition of Scientific American (June, 2014), we can feel validated, even vindicated that, thanks to resources like The 60 Seconds Fix and Brain Charge, we now have right action at the top of our list of priorities. “Go sensory or go home,” is how one colleague puts it. An abundance of science supports our daily choice of sensory experiences that are soothing, over long conversations about how we’re going to solve a problem, accomplish a goal, or make a change. “Going sensory” allows with ease the greatest shifts we hope to make, for more calm, greater well-being, and healthier habits.
According to Scientific American’s June article, “The Neuroscience of Habits: How they form and why they are so hard to change (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-the-brain-makes-and-breaks-habits/),” quieting, blocking, or turning off a very particular part of our neocortex called the infralimbic cortex, allows us to stop habits we wish to stop and replace them with new, healthier ones. Quieting the part of our brain that monitors our behavior has never been simpler or more pleasant. One minute at a time, even seconds at a time, we can progressively quiet the overthinking, overanalyzing, overcorrecting mind. Rather than tell ourselves that we need hours or days, the perfect setting, an organized house, or a trip to Maui to accomplish this, we need remind ourselves that there is something we can do in any given moment – the present moment, in fact! – to soothe our body and, thus, quiet the mind. When we do, we create the brain space and possibility, the sensorimotor capacity, to shift our focus and behavior in the desired direction.
Here are some ideas for a sensory menu of soothing activities that will quickly quiet the infralimbic cortex freeing our brain and energy up for more of what we really want: dip your feet into a pool or pond; run your hands under hot or cold water; focus on the colors of a favorite piece of art; listen to, and try to identify, all the different little (and big) sounds going off in the house; listen to birds singing or the breeze bristling through the trees; take a shower; watch clouds move in the sky; move the body (it doesn’t matter how: chorus kicks, a dance move, stretching, a yoga pose, using a fit ball or a hoolahoop); listen to soothing or uplifting music. My personal favorites are part of the toolkit I created called 60 Seconds for grounding, anchoring, containment, and physical support. Utilizing the tools of 60 Seconds reminds me to breathe in through my nose, fill my belly with air, and visualize something in nature when I can’t get out for my hike in the mountains, or I can’t get away to the islands of Hawaii. I wish! The good news is, any number of seconds or minutes of a sensory experience we consciously take as often as we can increasingly quiets the part of our brain that needs to turn off sometimes. It’s a cumulative process. One that creates new healthy habits that naturally begin to take over the ones we’d rather not continue.
I know we want to start right away with making big behavioral changes quickly, and when we can, we do. The reason that doesn’t always work out so well, especially in the long run, is that we need to lay an important neural foundation first. We need to learn how to turn off the busy part of our brain that keeps us in our old habits even after they don’t feel good anymore. Soothing the body through its senses allows the brain to experience the present moment, and that’s when habitual neural pathways can change. Mark Twain said something that the neuroscience supports now: Habit is habit and not to be flung out the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time. I, for one, am thrilled to know, we can change our habits… one small, sensory step at a time.