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Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks

Neuroplasticity is a scientific way of saying you can teach an old dog new tricks, which is good news for dogs and people. For dogs it means their owners can learn new ways to train them, and for people it means your dog can be better trained. Win win.

But since I don’t coach dogs (yet) this post is going to focus on the people part—with you as the dog in training.

My mission in coaching is to help people change what is not working for them so they can have that ‘thing’ that’s missing, whether it’s confidence, a promotion, focus, freedom around eating and dieting, clarity, time for play, self worth—the list is as varied as my clients.

Most of my clients come to me because they’ve tried everything they can think of to reach their goal and it hasn’t happened. And most often the reason they haven’t been successful is that they’re changing their behavior without changing their thinking. If you don’t change your thinking it’s only a matter of time before you’re back in front of the TV eating mindlessly, or thinking thoughts of how you’ve fallen short, or whatever your brand of self judgement is.

And that’s where neuroplasticity comes into play. Neuroplasticity tells us that the brain can, and does, create new neural pathways to hold the new messages we tell ourselves, and the more we practice new thinking the weaker the old pathways and thoughts become.

Old dog, new tricks!

That means you can actually lose negative thoughts (doubt, lack, not good enough, not productive enough, etc) by interrupting them and thinking new thoughts. It sounds easy, and the basics are simple: don’t think the negative thoughts, come up with new, positive ones—boom, done, I’m a new me.

The truth is, it is not as easy as it sounds, but it isn’t that hard either.

The first step to changing your thinking

The way to change your thinking is to become aware of it. That means noticing your thoughts.

One of my clients was trying to get other teachers on board with a workshop idea but finding them resistant. She was sure it was because her personality was ‘off-putting’ (her word) and they didn’t want to spend time with her.

By articulating the thought that they didn’t want to spend time with her she could see how she viewed herself as the problem. We took her out of the picture, reset the situation to neutral basically, and had her ask why they had opted to not participate. What she heard from most of them had to do with schedule. She changed the schedule and signed up enough teachers to make it work.

The most important piece here is identifying her thought: she was the reason the teachers were opting out.

This thinking showed up in every area of her life, whatever didn’t go well, it was because of something that was wrong with her.

The next step to changing your thinking

Once you are aware that you have this thought that gets in your way, the next thing you need to do is find a new thought. Not just any sunny affirmation, but a thought that is believable. So in the case of my client she came up with this: When I assume I am the problem it’s not necessarily the truth.

What’s so good about the thought she came up with is that it’s a bridge out of where she was. What I mean is, she doesn’t go straight to: I’m an amazing teacher and everyone loves working with me, which wouldn’t have rung true.

She created a believable path out of the old thinking.

And that is how you begin to teach an old dog new tricks: Become aware of your thinking; Find new, believable thoughts as a bridge out of the old thinking.

Practice and repeat, over and over and over. It takes repetition to create the new connections in your brain. Once you start to create the new connections the old ones begin to fade.

Give it a try, leave a comment and tell me how it goes.

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