Home' Nova National : April 2010 Contents 15
© NOVA APRIL 2010
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It is easy to walk up or down stairs
safely. It takes only a rudiment ary level
of attention, but not less than that!
When I was hurrying up or down stairs, I
tended to be out of balance, falling forward
on the next step, counting on my split-
second responses to keep me upright.
When I was rela xed and balanced, on
the other hand, I used entirely different
muscles in my legs and abdomen, and the
movement felt smooth and comfort able.
It was very different from a hurried,
scrambling kind of way of st air-walking.
Because I knew that change had to
be embedded at this kind of automatic
“muscle memory ” level, I decided I would
try to walk in this relaxed fashion every
time I came to a flight of stairs.
Of course, I often failed. I would forget
my good intentions until half way down
the st airs. When I forgot, I got annoyed.
Because I got annoyed often enough, I
st arted to remember.
It took about a month before
I was rememberi ng more often
than forgetting, and about a year,
or approximately a thousand flights of
st airs, to fully establish the pattern. It’s
not that I’m a slow le arner. It really does
take that long to overrule a habit and
embed a new routine.
Persistence is the key – doing the
same thing again and again and again.
Each time we repeat a new ta sk, the
hippocampus, which is that part of the
brain that consolidates memor y, leaps
into action. Ci rcuits of electricity f low
bet ween those part s of the brain that
plan and coordinate movement, and those
part s of the body that enact the movement.
The hippocampu s knits this complex
activity together into a unified template
and stops it fading into oblivion, as it
norma lly would. It takes the hippocampus
about a year of repetition to fix a new
action as a long-term skill or h abit. A ny
less and the changes may not last.
Positive thinking promises the Earth
but it has obvious shortcomi ngs. It
rarely produces results that live up to
expectations. The problem is that
thoughts are nowhere ne ar as powerf ul
as we assume them to be. They are more
like wishes than orders, and whatever
we aspire to is likely to ch ange in the
execution any way.
There is no mystery about how
positive change occurs. Our brains work
according to the adage “actions speak
louder than words”. This means that
lasting cha nge doesn’t come from
imagini ng our goal. It comes from
repeated activity towards that goal and
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