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How to Retrain Your Brain for Success

How to Retrain Your Brain for Success

We all share one world, but we really live in different realities. The way you see the world and the way you understand it can be completely opposite to the person sitting next to you. I am not referring to someone seeing a blue elephant when they are actually looking at a chair. Your individual views and beliefs about the world were formed as you grew up, based on what you saw, heard, felt and experienced and this is what has given you the reality you find yourself living in now.

Are you happy with your reality? Did you know that by changing the way you view the world, you change the results you have in life? That is really what sets us all apart, our beliefs and most importantly, that is what sets the more successful apart from the less successful.

The good news is that your brain is able to change the way that is currently structured and how it responds to the world. What does this mean? It was thought for many years, that once the human brain had developed it stayed fixed and unchanged and that is the way it would be for life.  Ever heard of Neuroplasticity?

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This is something new for scientists too and there is still a lot of learning to do, but we do know a few things. Neuroplasticity tells us that our brains are continuously changing, forming and growing new neurons and connections. This means, that we can actually change the way our brain is wired, because of the way we are thinking for example.

So how do you retrain your brain for success then? There are different ways, depending on your objective, here are some suggestions to get you started

1. Develop a mindset geared for success

Recognize the thoughts that you want to change. You can’t change the way you think if you don’t know what you want to change. The easiest way to do this is to create awareness around your emotions. When you are feeling sad, fearful, anxious, helpless, etc; basically limiting emotions, stop and ask yourself, ‘What am I thinking that is making me feel this way?’.

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Hold that ‘thought’ and challenge it, is this fact or a belief?’ If it is a belief, ask yourself how this belief is serving you, it mostly likely isn’t. Then choose another perspective that you can take on that is more empowering.

Consistent effort to reinforce new beliefs. You need repetition to create another path (neural connection) that will override the one you currently have. How do you do this?

  • Affirmations – An affirmation is a positive sentence written in the present tense that you would repeat to yourself over and over again throughout the day. Take out a few slips of paper and write down your affirmation, eg: I am confident and I believe in myself.

Try to repeat these sentences to yourself in the morning and evening and even better, at intervals throughout the day. It will most likely seem unreal starting out; you will have a voice in the back of your mind telling you that this isn’t true. Don’t focus on the voice, but rather focus on imagining that you really do feel this way. After a month or so of doing this consistently, you will find that the new thought has most likely overridden the old one.

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  • Subliminal messages

These are messages that only your subconscious mind notices. Imagine watching an advert on TV; and an image flashes saying ‘buy now’. You won’t see this image, but you will feel a strong desire to buy the product. Big brands use them all the time, although it is much more controlled now.

You can buy subliminal programs that you run on your computer while you work. You can choose the affirmations you want to appear and so while you are working, your subconscious mind is receiving new affirmations. A tip with these programs is to not have more than 5 affirmations at a time, as this will reduce the effectiveness. Also do this for a month.

2. Brain training games

There are many brain training games out there, I personally love Lumosity, a fabulous online tool. You can improve your memory, intelligence and executive function, whatever you goal is, this program has it. If you don’t continue to reinforce these neural pathways, your brain starts to atrophy as you get older. Research has shown that there is proven benefits to playing these online games for 15 minutes a day. After 1 month, you will definitely feel the improved difference.  

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3. Meditation

Meditation has been around for centuries and unless you practice it regularly, you won’t really understand how powerful it is. Besides reducing stress and anxiety, studies have also shown us that the act of meditating actually changes your neurons as well. Mediation actually changes the size of the different regions in the brain. The more you meditate, the more focused you feel and be able to concentrate for longer periods.

Unless information is applied, it is useless. How are you going to use this information to your advantage? You only have one life, don’t settle for less or what others want you to do. Be proactive in creating the results you want and the life you want, you won’t get another chance to come back and do it all again! What are you waiting for?

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Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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