With Seven Keys to Neuroplasticity (making your practices stick)

How do we stay anchored when everything feels like a rollercoaster? How do we keep growing our ability to show up well?

Pressure and pace are mounting, holiday vibes are long gone and the year has only just begun. We can’t control the speed, complexity and turbulence of life. What we can control is how we are with what is happening. We can also control and put in place habits that support us to show up in constructive, healthy ways – for the benefit of ourselves and those around us. 

Intentional, committed practices help us be effective

About eight years ago when I was studying Integral Coaching, I really got the importance of embedding practices that anchor us and build our resilience (defined as the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties). At that stage I thought I’d done a lot of personal development, only to discover there was a lot more ground to lay beneath my feet! Daily and weekly practices help me grow different parts of myself and keep me sane and centered, so I have the best chance of bringing my best self to the world.

A practice is something you repeat regularly that supports you to show up well in the world, like doing yoga every morning, going for a walk or a daily gratitude journal.

You may say ‘oh, I’m doing that already’. This is an invitation to reconsider the practices you may or may not have in place and check whether they’re giving you what you need. 

Practices help keep leaders focused, emotionally balanced, connected, energized and have mental clarity. They support us to respond rather than react. They enable us to stay open and curious and learn. They can even lead to spiritual awakening.

Choose ONE practice for each of these CORE areas

The idea is to choose ONE practice for each of these CORE areas, care of Integral Life Practices by Wilber, Patten, Leonard and MorelliAs you consider which practices to choose, apply the cross-training principle. This means choose practices that touch more than one dimension of your being, so that gains in one area can accelerate gains in another. Eg Meditating daily can benefit our mental clarity, emotional balance and awaken us spiritually.

  1. Body – healthy body eg strength training, yoga, sports, dance, balanced diet and conscious eating.
  2. Mind – clear mind eg reading and study, meaning-making, writing and journaling.
  3. Shadow – reintegrated shadow so it’s not unconsciously driving you and frees up your energy. This is the most sorely neglected area of the core areas. By shadow we mean the “dark side” or “repressed unconscious” of the psyche, those aspects of ourselves we’ve split off, rejected, denied, hidden or projected onto others. Example practices to reintegrate shadow are psychotherapy, art, music and dance therapy, and journaling.
  4. Spirit – commitment to a higher purpose eg meditation, prayer, worship, song and chanting.
  5. Relationship – constructive relating eg weekly check-ins, being vulnerable, regular appreciation and constructive feedback.

In time you can add to these CORE areas with a practice for other areas that you’d like to cultivate, such as ethics eg moral inquiry or creativity eg creative writing or work eg emotional intelligence. 

Apply seven keys to make your practice stick

Here are some practical steps to get going and I’m borrowing and adapting from Ann Betz’s 7 Keys to Neuroplasticity, which point to how to instill new habits and ways of being so they stick. We need to be applying all of the following seven keys to sustain and manifest a new neural pathway.

  1. Personal relevance: Get clear on ‘why’ you want to start these practices, to help you stay the course. The desire for something different must be big enough to disrupt old pathways. 
  2. Relationship: Find a friend or partner or coach who wants to walk a similar journey. It’s easier to walk a path with someone than to do it alone, because it helps us feel seen, understood and safe. 
  3. Novelty: Find new things that you could try. New things create a release of norepinephrine and dopamine – it’s like hitting the slot machine in your brain. 
  4. Focus and attention: Decide on ONE practice for each of the CORE areas using the cross-fit principle and bring focus to executing the practices (see above for suggestions).
    • Body
    • Mind
    • Shadow
    • Spirit
    • Relationship
  5. Humour and play: Choose activities you enjoy, add some fun, make the experience multi-sensory and cultivate lightness (non-judgement) with yourself. When we’re in joy, we’re much more inclined to sustain a practice and the habit becomes stickier.
  6. Practice / mistakes: There is no quick fix. A lasting, committed daily practice is the only way to lay real foundations. When we start a practice, we will make mistakes and these lead to learning through new neural connections. If you fall off the wagon, get back on and start again. No toddler learnt to walk smoothly in a day.
  7. Rest: Sleep allows for clearing of the brain and integrating. We can only take so much stimulation to operate optimally and need at least 7 hours of sleep a day. 

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