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Monday, March 28, 2011

Deliberate Practice....the key to change

Want to change something? Practice the change. Be deliberate and practice the change. What does that mean? Well, if you wanted to change a behavior, like smoking or drinking or comfort eating (those are ones that come up often) you would practice where you think. Thats right where you think. You have the urge to smoke, where is that urge coming from? It's coming from the emotional control center of your brain, the Amygdala, which is a small region of the brain that is responsible for releasing the neuropeptides that create the feelings you have associated with each emotion you experience.

Why is this so important to changing a behavior? Because we literally become addicted to our emotions. The neuropeptides that are released dock on the cells of your body which is how you feel the different emotions you "Feel". If you want to change a behavior, especially a habit, change where you think, which will change how you think, which will change how you behave. The change you want to make in where you think is from the Amygdala to the the Frontal Cortex of the brain which is often referred to as the executive region of the brain. This area of the brain has the ability to discern the future consequences of current activities and has the ability to suppress urges that otherwise may lead to unwanted outcomes.

Can you see how where you think is critical to changing behavior? The minute you move to emotional thinking, you are screwed when it comes to changing a behavior, that is why Deliberate Practice is so critical. Practice when done right, changes where and how you think resulting in a lasting change. When you are emotional, you react, literally you re act behavior that you have acted out in that same emotional behavior in the past. Deliberate Practice changes the behavior that you re act, or act out in the future.

My good friend and mentor Bob Beck taught me this years ago as he was teaching me to play the game of golf. We were out at the range one day and he asked me what I did when playing and my ball ended up in a divot (a hole created by a previous shot) in the fairway. My reply was "if we didn't have a game on the round, I would move it onto grass". He went on to explain to me that in a tournament you couldn't move it, and you would probably get frustrated or down right mad, which would leave you with two things working against you pulling off a good shot. Emotion and lack of practice hitting a shot like that. But if you practiced those shots, you wouldn't get mad and you would be much more confident in pulling off an adequate shot. I Didn't know it at the time but he was teaching me how to change "where" I was thinking.

So how do you change where you are thinking? Engage in an activity that kicks in the Frontal Cortex, which is where Deliberate and Practice comes in. You have to be deliberate with this and practice it. Take for an example, you have the urge to eat a chocolate covered donut. The urge is coming from an emotion and the desire to experience that taste, which lets face it, is pretty good. Your practice would be to catch yourself when the urge kicks in and to think "I can get the immediate satisfaction of the taste of that donut, but it really is not very nutritional and will have a very short term affect on my appetite, will turn to sugar very quickly resulting in me being hungry again really quickly, what is an alternative that I could enjoy? I could have a Pro Bar which is full of nuts and complex carbohydrates which will give me lasting energy and is much more nutritious, I'll eat that instead".

Simple, but not easy. Not easy because for most people satisfying the urge is auto-pilot. But the point is not satisfy the urge, its changing where you are thinking which is what halts the urge. By engaging the frontal cortex and thinking through the consequences downstream you are addressing the urge. The more you practice this the more it becomes part of your subconscious mind and in time you will just eliminate the urge from coming up. Make sense? Simple, but not easy.... but it works!!!

But don't take my word for it, check out The Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco. Mimi Silbert is the founder and since 1971 has been helping criminals change behaviors that landed them in the court systems and prison to behaviors that allow them to live productive, responsible and socially acceptable lives. Oh, and by the way she does this without counselors, doctors or therapists. The residents (criminals) help each other change bad behavior to healthy behaviors with success rates achieved nowhere else. Check it out.

Start with small changes and then gradually work up to bigger life changing behaviors, the more you change the more benefit you realize and the internal motivation for Deliberate Practice becomes very empowering. It makes it much easier if you have an accountability partner that you can work with and discuss what and how you are doing.

Deliberately practice where you are thinking, take the position of observer and just watch where your auto pilot goes to in different situations. If it is not serving you in a positive way, change where you are thinking. What have you got to lose? Auto pilot behaviors that don't serve you? Decisions that in hind sight, you think, "why in the world did I do that?" Deliberate and Practice and see what changes you can make for you and everyone else that you interact you change in positive and productive ways, you change the world.....You know that right? Be the Change......

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