Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 23, 2013

Mental Wellness: A brain new way of thinking

BY JOSEPH R. SANOK
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — A few months ago my wife noticed that our daughter would wake up when I would take a shower in the morning. Without fail, she’d almost always sleep in on the weekend and during the week would wake up when the water started pouring.

I offered to take a shower in the evening to allow them both to sleep a little bit longer.

My entire adult life, I had done the same morning routine. A little change wouldn’t really matter … or so I thought. The first day I forgot my lunch.

The second day I almost forgot to shave. The next day I stood next to the stove for an awkward amount of time trying to remember how to make oatmeal. It was crazy.

My brain was being rewired and I am glad.

Changes rewire the brain

An abundant amount of research has shown that changing small habits in your life can help ward off later life illnesses like Alzheimer’s.

Even things like brushing your teeth with the other hand, using your mouse with the other hand or driving a different route to work can stimulate the brain in new and different ways.

 

Road building

Secondly, whenever we develop a new habit or seek to help our kids change, there is rewiring that is happening.

We have neuropathways that are like roads through our brains. In the first few months of our lives, the brain tries to connect quickly and accurately for survival.

Then, repetition starts to occur. Babies realize that mom and dad often bring food, diaper changes or soothing rocking.

With well-established roads through our brains, new habits/roads have a hard time being established. Whether it is taking a shower at a different time or helping your kids to stop doing an annoying behavior, the old road has to break down while building a new road at the same time.

Both have to happen. Each time the old habit is returned to, it is like a new layer of asphalt.

Chaos is good

When the brain starts to make the switch to the new habit, a period of chaos occurs where the new road is not yet built and the old road has some significant potholes in it.

During that time, people experience chaos, disorder and going to work unshaven accidentally. It means that the new road is almost done.

Yet this is the time that most of us give up. (How’s that New Year’s Resolution going by the way?).

Neither one feels natural, so we stick with what we know, not what’s good for us, even if it is showering at night.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He is the author of “Mental Wellness Parenting: A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier,” available on Amazon.