Behavioral change is possible, but it’s also hard: Helpful strategies

mental will

The brain is best understood through the following metaphor: The brain is a group of muscles, and each ability within the brain is an individual muscle.


To understand that the brain is like a group of muscles is to understand both that change is possible and how change works. Of course, we don’t really grow our brains like we grow muscles, since brains are made of neurons, not muscle cells. However, we do, quite literally, grow our brains when we learn new things, practice our skills, and challenge ourselves. Research into neuroplasticity and neurogenesis shows that this is true. Believing that our brains can be strengthened in this way is the essence of having a growth mindset.
So the brain is like a group of muscles. They get stronger when we use them, and after we give them a workout, they need time for rest and recovery. The final concept I want to present on this subject has to do with behavioral change.

Behavioral change is possible, but it’s also hard, so it’s helpful to know strategies that make it easier. The idea that the brain is like a bunch of muscles encourages us to think about behavioral change in a realistic way.
Behavioral change requires willpower, also known as self-control or self-discipline. Willpower is like a muscle: The more often we use it, the stronger it gets. So yes, willpower can be increased over time.

Just remember that change is slow. You cannot get in physical shape after only a month of going to the gym, and you cannot transform into a highly-disciplined person overnight. Wherever you are, the only gains that can be made are incremental. A student who is disorganized and who procrastinates cannot instantly become a rock-star student, but he can steadily make small improvements.

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