I’m always looking for ways to help people to grow, expand their perspective and take their business or career to the next level, so I was captivated by a recent interview with Todd Herman, The Peak Athlete. Todd works with Olympic athletes and top executives to enable them to increase their performance. He had some very interesting information about the biology of change, which pulled together much of my previous learning from NLP and neurology. I thought I’d share the best bits with you, here.
Our cells are constantly receiving information and replicating themselves. They don’t assess what they are receiving, they just absorb it. They are configured to the last stimulus they have received, so if they have received cortisol (stress hormone), they want cortisol. It feels normal and familiar to them and they will be resistant to change. This is why it can be difficult to relax on the first couple of days of a holiday. Even though we don’t like stress, many of us are biologically addicted to it, so it takes a while for our cells to reconfigure to new, positive hormones, such as dopamine, which we experience when we begin to relax.
Our cells respond the same way when we want to introduce a new skill or more positive habit into our lives. These cells need to change their receptor sites to be able to receive the new stimulus and in order to do this, they vibrate, to reconfigure. We have an emotional response to this vibration and it can trip us up, if we don’t know what is happening.
The vibration of cellular change feels uncomfortable and our mind, being primarily a mechanism of survival, looks for reasons to validate these feelings and maintain the status quo, “This doesn’t feel right, it’s too hard, maybe it’s not for me, the time isn’t right.” Remember the thoughts going through your head when you restart a fitness regime after a long absence. The first few sessions are horrible. Your body is feeling challenged but it’s the incessant mind chatter that is the biggest obstacle. When we push through those first few days, it becomes easier and easier and eventually, if we persevere for long enough, it is no longer a chore but a pleasure. The feeling of being fit, healthy and strong is enjoyable and our cells receptors become configured to the new, positive hormones. We actually feel the sensation of discomfort if we don’t go.
When we stick with change through the discomfort stage we will have a breakthrough in behaviour. Our cells actually prefer the good stuff but they will take whatever is given to them, like baby birds. When we persevere through the discomfort then they will be hungry for the good stimulus – feeling fit, efficiency, high achievement, etc.
Todd says the three stages of transition for an ‘Ow brainer’ are:
- Feeling stuck
- Feeling Bored
- Feeling unsafe
For us to be able to make it through the transition stage, we need to access our ‘Wow’ brain.
You’ll be happy to hear we have both a ‘Ow’ and a ‘Wow’. We need to develop our ‘Wow’ brain so that it is in control when we are creating or experiencing change. “Wow’ brainers see the transition period as pleasurable. They appreciate the feelings of learning and growing and are excited by the opportunities that are opening up for them; they feel good about themselves and the results they achieve enforce those feelings. Our natural propensity is towards being a ‘Wow’ brainer. Think about a child when it is beginning to walk. I watched my favourite one-year-old struggling to climb the stairs, recently. That climb was huge to someone so small; his little legs were trembling at each new step – imagine the thigh burn – but he was determined. When he finally reached his goal (his mum) he was delighted and his success was reinforced by enthusiastic praise. You’d have thought he had just won an Olympic Medal! Imagine all the dopamine firing off in his system. He will repeat that performance over and over to receive more of those good feelings. He hasn’t developed intellectual reasoning yet, he is only motivated by what feels good or bad. As adults, we have developed our thought processes, so that we can make a considered decision, but we don’t always appreciate the feelings we attach to a situation are often the more powerful influence. As adults we need to make a conscious decision to use our ‘Wow’ brain and to do that effectively we need to attach good feelings to the change we are making.
The stages of transition for ‘Wow’ brainers are:
When growth and confidence overlap in the transition, then we gain momentum, which is the opposite of the ‘Ow’ brainer ‘stuck phase; when we have adventure and confidence we have excitement, the opposite of boredom; and when we combine adventure and growth we experience transformation. We don’t need safety in the same way, at this point.
It is important that, as always in growth, we have a goal. An interesting distinction Todd made was that he encouraged us to make it small to start with, rather than overwhelming ourselves. For example, “I’m going to give up coffee for the next seven days”, rather than, “I’m going to give up coffee, forever.”
From here, we set ourselves tiny, incremental goals. For example, “I am going to write a page of my book, this morning,” rather than, “I’m going to write the first five chapters.” This is a micro change that will set us up to achieve the bigger goal of writing the whole book. When we achieve these tiny goals, our cells receive a release of dopamine, which makes us feel good and encourages us to take the next step. You may find you do write the first five chapters once you start but if you don’t, you’ve already achieved your mini goal, which is a great start.
Next, we set ourselves improvement goals with a date attached: “I’ll have the first fifteen chapters of my book completed by July 31st, 2014.” We want to be able to assess whether I’m improving, or whether I need to tweak the goal. This can be plotted on a growth chart. Anything measured improves; anything measured and reported improves exponentially.
Todd says that is essential for us to surround ourselves with other ‘Wow’ brainers, if we want to make positive change. They will be our cheerleaders, like my favourite one-year old’s mum, supporting us when we are experiencing the discomfort of our cells’ reconfiguration. Gather a supportive tribe around you, whether it is friends, a coach, a mentor or an online community.
The final step to go through transition as a ‘Wow’ brainer is to anticipate possible setbacks. If your sister and her family are coming to visit you for a week, you may have to reduce the expected time that you will be working on your book, or set very clear boundaries about how much you will be available. This second option is very hard to take. You may have to reschedule to ensure you meet your deadline, without offending your family members.
I have found this information so valuable. I have been trying to manage my sugar cravings and it has been very comforting to set myself the goal of not eating chocolate today, rather than never eating it, again. Yup, that’s my baby step. I’m up to five days, now and feeling very proud of myself, as well as benefiting from not having to experience a sugar crash. When I could hear the monkey mind jabbering away, saying one little square of chocolate wouldn’t hurt, I knew it was only my cells vibrating to reconfigure and that if I held out, the craving would pass. Of course, it did.
I’ve used simple, familiar examples here but, obviously, as with world class athletes, it will work with your business and career goals. Enjoy your magnificent ‘Wow’ brain and don’t let reconfiguration trip you up.
If you’d like to find out more about Todd, go to: www.thepeakathlete.com