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Learning new habits: Are there any shortcuts?

Last week I mentioned neuro-science. Now, if you have not noticed, it is one of the new buzzwords in coaching, leadership coaching in particular. Neuro-science has rapidly evolved in helping us to understand more about how the brain works, how we learn, how we socialise and how we use past experience to judge future actions. We now have to start applying this knowledge to create opportunities for learning that suit our evolutionary preferences and strengths.

You do not need to be a behavioural scientist to know that people are creatures of habit and that habits are hard-wired in the brain, especially if the habit re-enforces feeling good about yourself, or if it makes life convenient.  New knowledge is, however,  often in conflict with old habits. Ask any smoker.

Learning is all about taking new information and matching it to what you know of similar things (and how you feel about them). When you receive new information it may or may not prompt you to action. And action is always initiated to avoid pain or to achieve pleasure. It is this weighing up of avoidance and gains that is at the heart of all decisions.

The status quo has been to learn through reading (visual) and listening to lectures (auditory). New information is then processed in a linear format through repetition and associations. Most of these functions are what we used to refer to as “left-brain” function. Neuro-science is now showing us that deeper, more sustained learning is achieved when “insight” can be achieved – something that has been shown to happen in the right pre-frontal cortex.  Something is telling me that we have only used half of our brains all these years!

Something is also telling me that all of our teaching traditions in the West have neglected incorporating right brain strengths into learning new habits. Yes,  that’s right. New habits can be learnt. The questions are “How?”  and  “Are there any shortcuts?”

The shortcut to learning new behaviour is to also use the right brain through experiential learning. During visualisation and activities where there is body work, it has been shown that there is a much faster emotional connectivity, leading to insight in often surprising ways. This reminds us of the “feeling” bit again.

At Blueprint Health we feel very strongly about creating that perfect space where new information is contextualised. You need to be in a head space where you accept new information that is relevant, decide where it belongs on your ladder of priorities and can “see” yourself as part of the desired outcome. Incorporating experiential learning into our Re-treats is integral to have fun, connect with others and,  above all,  move forward.