The Science of “Change”
The intelligent want self-control, children want candy -Rumi
No matter what type of practitioner you are, we have all had the experience of sitting across from a patient that sought out our expertise, invests money and time, and understands logically that there are certain aspects of their dietary habits, lifestyle, sleep pattern, etc. that need to change for them to reach their wellness goals.
Often the areas of needed change are self-identified by the person that is seeking your advice. Yes, they already know they need to change and often our role as practitioners is simply to educate on the connections between behavior and outcome, reinforce the priorities of change and support their process.
Yet…change is elusive; change is hard. Why?
If your first thoughts about this question have anything to do with friable self-control or will power, there is a growing body of research in the field’s neuroscience, cognitive science and linguistics that might change your mind, about change.
There is a chunk of neural real estate just behind your forehead and eyes called the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is often referred to as the seat of executive function, or more simply the neural networks involved with the ability to manage oneself, and one’s resources to achieve a goal(s). This is an area of the brain that is not fully developed and “on-board” until our early twenties—and therefore why teenagers have a hard time fathoming why studying now will benefit them when they have finals later.
The pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the most anterior portion of the frontal cortex, is believed to specialize even further. The left side of the PFC functions somewhat like a gas-pedal, providing “will” power to initiate and stick to difficult, boring, or stressful tasks. You can thank this region for the impetus that gets you off the couch to go for a run. In contrast, the right side of the PFC functions like a brake, providing “will- not” power and holding you back from indulging in every impulse or craving. Thank this region when you resist the temptation to text while driving. Together, these areas help modulate our behavior to fit life’s varied situations.
Some neuroscientists go so far as to say we have one brain and two minds.
But the story isn’t over. There is a third area, a more central region of the PFC, which keeps track of our goals, our desires, our “wants”; it’s our compass.
What does all this have to do with change? Minimally, the brain requires three things to function optimally:
How many patients of yours with imbalanced blood sugar levels, anemia’s and lack significant amounts of exercise or movement (one of the biggest single brain stimulants) in their lives also have a hard time changing.
This is by no means the complete story of change, but by eliminating these potential obstacles to the PFC’s gas/ break functional balance might just help positively impact your patients’ lifestyle outcomes.
by Julie Beck, DC, MS, CSCS