Andrew Wittman is an ex-marine, police officer and federal agent who is now a mental toughness coach. He teaches civilians how to be mentally tough and he has heard this particular mental toughness excuse too many times.
People tell him “I can’t change as I’m just wired that way,” but he responds by saying that according to neuroscience, you can change your wiring.
He illustrates this by relating his own experience in training to be a marine. After having never held or fired a rifle before he completed one week of continual shooting practice to become proficient.
“Neuroscience definitively shows the neurons that fire together, wire together. Every time you perform a skill or take an action, the brain fires off in a particular pattern. Repeating the same skill or action creates a neuropathway. Think of it this way: the first time you try something, you are a trailblazer. You are in the jungles of the Amazon with a machete, chopping vines, trees, and underbrush. The second time you travel that path, it becomes a little easier. Over time, the more you repeat the skill or action, the more trampled the path becomes. After a few months, the path becomes a dirt road. After a year, you have paved that road. After a decade, it becomes a superhighway, six lanes wide with an autobahn-esque speed limit to match”
He continues by explaining the neuroplasticity of the brain, which “is its ability no matter the physical age, to change throughout our entire lifetimes. We aren’t hardwired.”
He has heard the mental toughness excuse “I’m just wired that way.” too many times to explain away bad attitudes, habits, and behaviours.
We literally have the ability, regardless of age or stage of life, to rewire our brains at will. Is it comfortable? No.
Comfort comes from the very opposite of rewiring. Default neuropathways are what makes us comfortable. That is why humans are known as creatures of habit. We love to be comfortable, and habits are simply us traveling on the neuro-superhighways we have built, which ensure that comfort. It takes conscious effort to blaze new trails and create new neuropathways.
We activate neuroplasticity and physical rewiring of our brains, creating new pathways every time we learn new information or learn a new skill. An easy way to experience what neuroplasticity feels like is to brush your teeth with your non-default hand. If you normally use your right hand, use your left hand. Practice writing your name with your non-default hand. If you stick with it long enough, as in creating a new neural superhighway, you will become ambidextrous. Not overnight, but it will happen. The more you fire off that set of neurons, the more those neurons bundle together.
You can teach an old dog new stuff, but it takes enduring enormous amounts of discomfort to do so. How long before you switched back to your default hand in the teeth-brushing experiment? The Average Minded person will switch back before completing the task. The Resilient Minded will find a way to power through the discomfort and frustration. As parents, it is much easier to wire healthy behaviors in our kids from the time of birth, which become their default (habits), than it is to correct unhealthy behaviors and detrimental habits when they become teenagers and young adults. That’s why it seems easier for children to learn several languages at the same time growing up. It’s not actually easier; they just don’t know any different. They haven’t established a default language superhighway that makes them have to force themselves to build another language superhighway. They build both superhighways at the same time, and they don’t realize it’s not comfortable.
For more from Dr Wittman the ex-marine mental toughness coach view the original article from UK Business Insider.