- Dr Dan
Repeat After Me...
How do we learn new things? Through practice of course. It’s not like we live in a world like Neo from The Matrix where we can just plug in and instantly learn a new skill. We have to work hard at it and that’s what I want to talk about today – forming habits in aspects of our lives where we want to improve and integrating these habits so that they become our new normal. The best way to do that is through repetitive action.
So, forming habits through repetition sounds easy enough right? Studies have shown that if I place myself in a situation where I perform an action over and over, I’ll soon just get it, but how does that work? Neuroplasticity my friends.
It’s a term you may or may not have heard and to put it simply I think of it like exercise itself; if we exercise our muscles regularly, they get stronger and better at performing their function. This is because the brain has remembered this previous exercise, and that is where neuroplasticity comes in. When we complete a certain exercise regularly, we are building and strengthening the synaptic connection between our neurons; when we repeatedly fire on our neuron’s connections, they will in turn perform better each time. A common saying is “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.
The same theory applies when we are learning a new skill: the more we engage in certain patterns, the more facilitated that pattern becomes. On a personal level, this is how I went from only being able to hold a handstand for a couple of seconds, to being able to confidently hold my handstand for over 20 seconds.
We can take this concept and apply it in many realms of our lives. In the sense of movement, it means that if we complete a certain pattern over and over, the brain activity will require lower levels of stimuli each time to perform that movement. If we are thinking about not forgetting to water our plants so they stop dying, we would keep our watering close by and write a note that’s visible as a cue to remember. After a short amount of time we will start to be more automatic in our thinking and the habit will be formed.
They say it takes 2 weeks to bed in the formation of neural connectivity when forming new habits so why don’t you get out there and have a go? Try that new exercise, or that new movement or even watering your plants consistently for 2 weeks and see what happens.
 Lally, P & Gardener, B 2011. Promoting habit formation. Health Psychology Review, pages s137-s158 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17437199.2011.603640?scroll=top&needAccess=true
 Hargrove, Todd, 2014, A Guide to Better Movement: The Science and Practice of Moving with More Skill and Less Pain, page 54.