This video/podcast is great and little on the long side and if you want the full scoop then I recommend you watch it all. If you are interested in modern psychology it really is a must view/listen. Read on if you would prefer to quickly understand the linking of neuroscience and hypnotherapy, NLP, meditation, mindfulness, energy work, life coaching, etc.
I am extremely interested in the neuroscience of change. Being a qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Master NLP Practitioner and Life Coach, as well as a scientist with a PhD in Colour Chemistry I love it when the psychology and the science align so well. I am fascinated with the science of neuroscience and hypnotherapy. I was understandably thrilled when someone drew my attention to this video. It’s a great story about Dr. Andrew Huberman and it provides a lot of missing links between what we do as clinical practitioners and the actual neuroscience of why it is so effective.
The takeaways are;
- while our brains remain plastic once we’re adults we need to take action
- get started with focus and urgency
- relax or sleep for change to occur
- hypnotherapy combines a lot of this to make change efficient and lasting
Our brains are plastic!
It seems that from childhood to about the age of 25 are brains are mostly in a learning mode, i.e. they are very plastic as they continuously learn and change in response to the environment. This is why children can learn multiple languages seemingly with little effort. After the age of about 25 our brains move into mostly doing mode. We start running the processes we’ve already learnt rather than learn new or improved versions. However, we know that we can switch our brains into learning mode and when we do they are just as plastic as when we were children.
How do we switch into learning mode?
So you want to make a change to a behaviour, e.g. be less anxious! What do we need to do? From a neuroscience perspective we need to trigger the production of acetylcholine and adrenaline. These mark neural pathways in our brain for change. The behaviours needed are firstly to focus on some aspect of the thing we are learning about. And secondly to find the right levels of energy, i.e. pump ourselves if we’re low and calm ourselves if we are too pumped or monkey mind, as Andrew describes it.
Focus is paying deep attention to something, i.e. avoiding distractions, considering multiple aspects, drawing conclusions and meaning, etc. Like you might if you were reading a complex text, solving a difficult maths problem or completing a challenging gym workout. Doing so turns on the acetylcholine.
The adrenaline comes from a sense of urgency. As part of the fear system it often feels like frustration or agitation. But if we interpret it as a signal from our brain to take action then we mark our brain’s neural pathways for change. If our energy is low we need to increase adrenaline/urgency by any method that works. Some people find rapid breath work gets the adrenaline going. Others mind take an ice bath. If our monkey mind is rampant then we need to calm down a little so that we can focus. Andrew’s favourite method for this seems to be the physiological sigh, i.e. two breaths in before breathing out slowly. Sounds a little strange but if you try it you’ll realise that if you breathe in slowly and deeply then when you reach the end of the inhale you can immediately inhale again, before slowly exhaling.
How do we move from marked to actual change?
The simple answer is sleep or deep relaxation. When we do so various other neurochemical processes kick in and the neural pathways that are marked for change actually change, i.e. neuroplasticity. This is why good sleep is so important for mental and physical health.
Good sleep is long enough, routine enough and undisturbed. This means about 7-8 hours continuous sleep and going to bed at the same time every day. There are lots of tips about ensuring good sleep and I may write them up later. Simply put they involve; natural light levels, good hydration and consistency. Andrew goes into some of his tips in the video.
Why do modern psychology practices like hypnotherapy work so well?
Hypnosis is very well understood but not very well-defined and I won’t attempt to do so here. Hypnotherapy like other modern psychology practices such as NLP, meditation, mindfulness, etc, are very deliberate about putting the mind and body into a state of learning and change. Hypnotherapy in particular is often described as helping a person get into a state of deep focus and relaxation at the same time in order that a client can make profound changes in very short periods of time. Hypnosis then seems to be ideally positioned to both allow the focus and urgency needed to mark the brain for change and allow the relaxation required for the change to happen. Dr. Hauberman seems to agree that neuroscience and hypnotherapy are in alinement when it comes to making efficient and long-lasting change. He is continuing to explore hypnosis with his colleagues at Stanford University.
Neuroscience and modern psychology practices, like hypnotherapy, really do agree. It can be as simple as interpreting that feeling of frustration or agitation, associated with tackling something that you’ve put off or is new, as a signal of urgency from your brain. Then take action by focusing intently on some aspect of the activity. As soon as you do so, more often than not, you will follow through with completing the task or subtask. The more focussed you are with that sense of urgency the more your brain is marked for change (focus on the good stuff if you want good change). Then sleep and allow your brain to do its neuroplasticity thing. Focus with a sense of urgency, then sleep and you learn as rapidly and as well as you did when you were a child.
And of course if you are struggling or simply need some help then find a good hypnotherapist. They can help with the focus, the urgency and the sleep/relaxation.