A Gulp and some Spirit– You Ready?

15 Feb

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “But Kori, I know what to do” or “Kori, I really should know how to do this on my own” or “Kori, I have the information– I just can’t “do” it.”

And to each of these comments, I usually nod, smile, and respond with a “Yep,” a “Not exactly”, and “You hit the nail on the head.”

The brain is a wonderful thing.Without the brain we’d not be functioning human beings who can breathe, move, think, sense, experience, learn, creating meaning, much less digest our food. Each of the statements above referenced ‘knowing.’ The brain is involved in ‘knowing’, gathering information, assimilating that information, creating understanding of that information, and establishing meaning of that information. But let me back up.

Knowledge stops at knowledge unless it is followed by experience. Semantic memory are those tidbits of knowledge that we’ve stored to possibly access later. Key word: possibly. Through experience we create episodic memories by connecting the known with the unknown. If we desire to make sense of something, to understand what we’ve not previously encountered, we connect it with something that we’ve already stored away.

For example, I ask my weight loss clients to remember a big accomplishment in their lives. The meeting of a goal takes tenacity, determination, the ability to problem-solve, manage time, institute some level of organization, and a mindset of flexibility. We can anticipate that there will be bumps in the road along the way, and navigating them takes a level of skill, right? Losing weight often seems like the most daunting task on the planet when my clients first begin the process, however, when they can use what they already know, associate the same skills they have used in the past on other tasks, with what it will require to lose weight, suddenly the goal seems much easier to reach. In essence, they may “know what to do” (they have read a million diet books, participated in numerous diet programs, and watched Dr. Oz), but without experience, that knowledge remains a philosophy.

We also learn by repetition, and herein lies the problem, especially with chronic dieters. Many of them have been doing the same thing over and over, but what they have been doing has been ineffective.  “I read that carbs make you fat,” (knowledge) the client across from me stated emphatically. “I’ve been doing a low carb diet for years, and I just keep yo-yoing.” (experience).  How can she know what to do if she’s been doing the wrong thing for  years and hasn’t learned any new information that could be more effective for her? At this point her low carb dieting has become automatic. If she gains a few pounds, guess where her brain goes? The neurons that are connected to the “knowledge” about carbs are connected to the neurons that initiate the chemicals connected to the emotion that has created meaning about carbs and the subsequent behavior of ketogenic (no carb) dieting. NO FRUIT FOR YOU!

If she wants to change who she is and what she does, she has to change her brain by learning new things to create new neural circuits. She could get frustrated and say, “I just can’t do it. This is just me,” and resign herself to be overweight, unhappy, and unwilling to learn some new knowledge to start applying for the attainment of new skills.

Are you understanding now that to create change you have to first change your brain by acquiring new knowledge and information, then be willing to embrace novel experiences to create new connections and meaning that will, by association and repetition, become automatic and eventually subconscious?

So here’s the deal: If you’ve got the knowledge, it may be sitting there just waiting to be activated. What you have learned (as information) is what someone else has basically turned into experience and wisdom. So now it’s your turn. But it won’t “just happen.” What’s the next step? You’ve got to assess that knowledge, turn it over and examine it thoroughly, identify how it relates to you, reflect on it. By doing this you’re internalizing it and making it more a part of you. You are creating new synaptic connections in your brain that are now ripe to be influenced by experience (applying what we learn and changing our behavior) and attaching emotion. But we can’t stop here. We have to continue assessing and critiquing along the way, adapting what we’re taking in and experiencing with what we’ve already learned and making decisions about what to keep and continue applying or what to throw away and continue learning about! The woman who succumbs to peer pressure and has pizza and wings when she’s out with friends rather than sticking to her plan of enjoying a healthy grilled chicken salad must go back and ask herself how that event transpired, what got in the way, and create new understanding for herself so she can avoid the same behavior next time. Now she’s becoming wise!

I started with a client yesterday who expressed her trepidation about whether she really needs to work with me. She was of the “I should be able to do this on my own” camp. But she’s been in that camp for a few years, she hasn’t changed, and her knowledge and experience has remained the same. We talked about this new journey she’d be embarking on with me and she said, “With a gulp and some spirit, I’m ready to learn….”

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