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What We Practice Gets Stronger

Updated: Oct 27, 2022

As humans, we are well equipped for lasting positive behaviour change.

It’s October and it is global mental health awareness month. Much has been written in the past months and years on the topic of mental health AND the growing concerns (globally) and manifestations of mental health both inside and outside the workplace.

The truth is that we all have mental health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.

There is no doubt that world events over the last few years (political, economic, social, environmental) have had a very real (and sometimes lasting impact) on the mental health and wellbeing of many. We have all, collectively and individually, responded to the unfolding of events in different ways. How we’ve responded and reacted individually and collectively will also be driven by many factors including past experiences, messages that we may have heard in childhood or adulthood, societal / cultural norms and beliefs, how society is responding around us and also how our brains are wired and organised.

Some of the convergent research emerging from neuroscientific studies over the last 20 years (and I will caveat this with saying that this research is still very much unfolding) is that the brain is very much organised and centred around 3 human needs: #safety, #connection and #respect.

With world events taking place AND knowing what we are learning about how our brain is organised, it’s no wonder that people are struggling with mental health. Our feelings of personal safety and security are being compromised on many levels with increases in political and economic pressures and insecurity; our experience of connection has been compromised with isolation resulting from the pandemic; how different groups are feeling included or excluded and treated around issues of dignity and respect.

As humans, we learn to use strategies that move us towards feeling safe, connected and respected OR consciously/unconsciously we use these strategies and we move away from feeling safe, connected and respected.

How do we learn these strategies? We learn them two ways:

  1. Conceptual self-awareness (e.g. our thinking and what we believe is true in the world)

  2. Embodied self-awareness (e.g what our bodies feel/sense/experience).

Many of these strategies (also known as coping mechanisms as a means to protect us from experiencing harm or threat in the world) were learned in early childhood. Some of them, we learn and develop later in life. Some of them have been very healthy and have served us well as younger people and continue to help us into adulthood. However, some of these strategies can also keep us stuck, block us off from fully experiencing life, or worse still harm us (consciously or very unconsciously). Both healthy and unhealthy strategies are developed through thinking patterns AND embodied learned experience that subsequently impact our behaviour. Here are some examples of healthy and unhealthy coping strategies.

​Healthy Coping Strategies

​Unhealthy Coping Strategies

  • ​Exercise

  • Talking about your problem

  • Healthy eating

  • Seeking professional help

  • Relaxation techniques (e.g. deep breathing/meditation)

  • Using social support

  • Problem-solving techniques

  • Drug or alcohol use

  • Overeating

  • Procrastination

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Social withdrawal

  • Self-harm

  • Aggression

Whilst the oldest part of our brain (sometimes referred to as the reptilian brain or survival brain) is wired for safety and to protect us, we are learning that we CAN change. We CAN rewire our brains (in a healthy way). We CAN undo some of the old thinking and behavioural patterns that may be causing us harm or may be holding us back and keeping us stuck from fully experiencing a life of greater joy & fulfilment.

It’s a concept known as neuroplasticity. This is "the brain's ability to modify, change, and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience."

I love neuroplasticity. It fills me with hope for me, for you, and for our humanity. Now we now know that we are very well equipped to change our automatic behaviours.

This short 2-minute video explains a little more about neuroplasticity.

AND what it requires is practice.

It’s not always enough to just think ourselves into new behaviours (at a conceptual level).

For lasting change to be sustained, we have to act / behave in new ways (embody new behaviour) for us to truly experience and embed new ways of being.

AND note this. It works equally for the positive and the negative behaviours.

🌙 If you practice judgement and judging others, that will get stronger

🌙 If you practice hate, that will grow stronger

🌙 If you practice looking for the negative, that will get stronger

🌙 If you practice avoidance, that will get stronger

🌙 If you practice approval seeking, that will get stronger

But here's the good news.

⭐ If you practice kindness, that will get stronger

⭐ If you practice listening, (really listening to understand, not to speak), that will get stronger

⭐ If you practice appreciation, that will get stronger

⭐ If you practice finding the good in all things and people, that will get stronger

⭐ If you practice empathy, that will get stronger.

⭐ If you practice standing up for yourself and asking for what you need, that will get stronger

⭐ If you practice going to the gym, you will get stronger.

It’s not always enough to just think ourselves into new behaviours (at a conceptual level). For lasting change to be sustained, we have to act / behave in new ways (embody new behaviour) for us to truly experience and embed new ways of being.

What We Practice Gets Stronger

Our mental health, just like our physical and emotional health, requires care and attention. The more you start to notice not just what you are thinking BUT also what you are feeling (and connecting / integrating one with the other), the more you can start to make healthier and better choices and decisions for yourself. Both the mind and the body have huge wisdom and intelligence. They directly impact our mental health. The more we start to integrate mind and body, the more we will grow in confidence and authenticity.

Here are a couple of reflective prompts for you to consider during mental health month and beyond to help improve your life:

🔹What patterns of thinking and behaviour work for you that you want to keep doing and strengthening?

🔹What thought patterns or behaviours (strategies) are you aware of that may be blocking you from becoming the person you really want to be and experiencing life in all its fullness.

🔹What is the one thing that you most want to work on that you know is going to have the most immediate and positive impact on your life? (Trust yourself, mind, your body, your intuition, will tell you!)

If you liked this blog, let me know and get in touch if you want to find out more.

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