THE THINKING PATH - PAGE SEVEN
Repetition, also known as affirmation, involves repeating new thought habits like mantras. In the same manner we memorized our multiplication tables, the act of repeating a thought habit increases the chances that it will be encoded in our brains. In neuroscience, this is called long-term potentiation and can be described as a long-lasting period of signal transmission between two neurons that increases
the strength of their connection to one another and thus the probability that they will fire together in the future. Long-term potentiation is widely believed to be at the basis of learning and memory building and has led to the well-known adage that neurons that fire together wire together.
With this in mind, a coach might suggest that as part of a client’s Thinking Path Plan, the client could quietly affirm a new thought habit several times a day. The client could continue to do this until he or she experienced greater facility in choosing the new thought habit as an alternative to the original, and/or began to feel or act differently when he/she affirmed the new thought habit. Let’s now take the case of the executive in figure 3 and focus for the rest of this chapter on building a Thinking Path Plan to encode and sustain one of his four new thought habits: “I believe that health is the key to a good life and it needs to be cultivated.” If we focus on repetition, one part of his Thinking Path Plan could be to affirm this thought habit every morning, afternoon, and evening for a period of time.
One challenge to be aware of is that some clients will give up on repetition because it may seem artificial and shallow to them. The new thought habit may seem foreign, questionable, or simply untrue, and affirming it over and over again may not yield results. As such, repetition works best when it is coupled with other learning approaches that will give it a greater chance of becoming encoded as a new neural pathway and become the basis for a new reality.
I define education broadly to include any active engagement in activities such reading, watching TV, videos and film, listening to experts, going to events and shows, and attending workshops and courses. It goes without saying that one of the essential components of learning is the acquisition and processing of new data and information either individually or in collective settings. From a neuroscience perspective, when we actively engage in educational activities related to a new thought habit, we experience a significant increase in neural activation relative to that thought habit. The more complex and collective the activity, the more neural landscape we use, the more neural pathways are formed, and the greater likelihood that new thought habit is encoded and sustained.
With this in mind, a coach might suggest that as part of a client’s Thinking Path Plan, the client could read articles or books related to the thought habit, watch a specific documentary or film that incorporates the thought habit, or attend a specific lecture, course, or workshop that further expounded upon the thought habit. In the case of the executive in the example, another part of his Thinking Path Plan could be to read articles on exercise and fitness, watch a documentary on the adverse effects of stress, attend a course on stress management, or consult a nutritionist. If these practices were coupled with daily affirmations, the probability that the thought habit would be sustained would be increased.
Visualization, also known as mental rehearsal, involves quietly thinking about a thought habit and imagining how it might play out in real life. Recent research has revealed that the brain responds similarly to the thought of an action and to the real action. Athletes who have submitted themselves to electromyography have demonstrated that when they mentally rehearsed their moves, the electrical currents sent to their muscles by their brains were similar to the impulses sent when they were physically performing the moves. These experiments demonstrate that whether an activity is mentally imagined or is actively performed, the same neural pathways are stimulated, the same physiological changes are present, and the neural pathways are ultimately strengthened.
With this in mind, a coach might suggest that as part of a client’s Thinking Path Plan, the client could take a few minutes during the day or evening and quietly visualize how a thought habit could play out in real life. This is especially powerful if the client has been doing daily affirmations of the thought habit and has engaged in various educational activities. In the case of the executive in the example, another part of his Thinking Path Plan could be to take a few minutes each day for a week to quietly visualize being at the gym, engaging in stress management practices, or living a joyful and happy life. The executive would effectively be imagining prior to acting. This would strengthen the impact of the affirmations and educational activities.
One challenge to be aware of is that most clients prefer to close their eyes when performing visualizations in order to avoid distractions. As a consequence, many may feel uncomfortable closing their eyes and performing visualizations during the workday or even during a coaching session in the workplace. It is important to allow clients to perform visualizations when they feel most comfortable and this may be in a place other than the workplace.