Prime your neurobiology.
Hi, I’m Dr. Chad Larson. I think that within the next few months, a lot of people are going to be interested in improving their health. For the past couple of years, a lot of people have put their own health on the back burner, and they’re going to be interested in re-establishing good health practices in their life. But that’s not always easy. If you put it down on paper, it sounds simple enough, but actually putting it into practice can be difficult.
But there are some ways we can sort of prime our neurobiology so that when we implement a new habit, the neurobiology kind of “gets it” because you’ve already created the neural networks. The neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine are already primed and ready to go to support the new thing. This way you aren’t just white knuckling it through the process. It’s all about developing this skill from a neurobiological standpoint so you can prove to your system that you can do these things.
I’m going to be talking about the practice of grit as a skill, as something you can develop over time.
And when peak performance experts and scientists talk about these concepts, they identify multiple types of grit. Over the next couple of episodes I’m going to talk about those different types of grit. The one they suggest as the best place to start is the Grit to Persevere.
The grit of perseverance is really a combination of:
I’m going to speak to these ideas through physical movement, physical exercise. If you have an allergy to the term “exercise” and you just don’t like the word, you can just think of it as movement. Any kind of body movement, whatever it is. Just pick something that you find interesting, but within the category of movement as exercise. This is a great way to practice perseverance. Because you might use the grit later down the line to help you, for example, stop eating foods you crave that you know are not healthy for you. Or to incorporate a behavior that you know will be very healthful. Or to adopt some other daily practice or dietary component that may be difficult right now, but when you do it through physical movement and physical exercise first, then you’re going to build the neural network that makes those other activities easier.
So, what is willpower?
Willpower is really the combination of self-control and delayed gratification. Let’s say you’re an early morning exerciser. Your alarm goes off at six o’clock in the morning, and your initial use of willpower is to turn off the alarm, put on your shoes and exercise clothes, and go for a walk or a run or to the gym, whatever your preferred physical activity is. That’s willpower, but eventually willpower is going to run out. So then you need to have the right mindset.
Mindset is the belief, the thought process, the self-talk that what you’re doing is going to result in some kind of improvement for you.
You’re moving toward something that’s going to improve your health. And here I’m just talking about it from a health aspect, but these principles could be applied to things outside of health, too. Or it might be a different aspect of health. Right now we’re talking about physical activity. But then mindset can be that self-talk you use when the gremlins start tempting you at nine-thirty at night to go grab a cookie. When you’ve built up this strength, this grit to persevere, you’ll have the neural network in place to override those cravings and unwanted thought processes. So, mindset is this belief that what you’re doing, the behaviors and actions that you’re taking, are going to result in some kind of improvement.
Passion is the internal motivator, a little bit different from mindset.
To illustrate an internal motivator, imagine the house is on fire. What would you be willing to risk your life for? What would you run into a burning house to save? Is it a person, a book, an object? That’s an example of an internal motivator. That’s the kind of thing you want to keep in mind as you’re going through the steps to build up your grit of perseverance.
What’s happening here is you’re creating a whole new neural network. That neural network is juiced up by a couple of key neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. Dopamine is kind of the reward, the motivation type of neurotransmitter. Every time we use the willpower, mindset, and passion to do some activity, we get a little shot of dopamine. That’s rewarding for you and makes you feel good in the moment, which is going to help to pre-prime a similar behavior next time. And then also you get the norepinephrine which is kind of the drive, the energy, the juice to keep you going, keep you active, keep you energetic to do these things over and over again. Because that’s really the key, especially from a grit of perseverance standpoint, and especially if I’m speaking to this in a physical exercise sort of way. It takes energy. But if you can do it over and over again, you’ll start to create this neural network, and your neurobiology gets primed to apply this pattern to other aspects of your health and decision making.
-Dr. Chad Larson
I will keep adding on to this concept of grit. This was just kind of the best launching point. It’s something you can literally start doing today or tomorrow. I’ll start to incorporate the other degrees of grit as we continue to create a mental program or a mental set of tasks and skills. Because I’m thinking that people are going to want to get their health back in line, and these are ways we can prime our biology to do something that might be difficult. So, I will keep reading the books and studies, and I’ll see you next time. Until then, keep it real.