“I find the brain endlessly fascinating,” says Sue Langley. She tells us about how, as a child, she hit her head a lot. She thought that she was losing brain cells each time, and that when she was 80 years old she’d have no brain cells left, with purple hair and a bird on her head.
Sue tells us about her experience getting her brain scanned in the USA. She discovered that her brain was very healthy, and she’d be very unlikely to end up with the future she predicted for herself.
“It’s hard to change habits, because habits require prefrontal cortex,” Sue says. Prefrontal cortex requires a lot of energy to run. Habit itself requires little ‘fuel’ – it repeats itself very easily.
When it comes to habit and the brain, Sue likes to use the analogy of a national park. Our habits are like an easy trail through the national park. When we want to change a habit, we have to forge a new path. “It’s hard to override the instinct to go down the easy path,” she says. “Our brains are almost wired to go down the easy path.”
“We need to change the cue,” Sue says. For Sue, it’s plugging in her phone away from her bed so she doesn’t check it first thing in the morning, and reinforce the easy path of getting the reward of ‘likes’ on Facebook. Some cues are hard to change, though, so we can also try changing the reward.
“If you want to introduce a new behaviour, we need to introduce an upward spiral.” Sue tells us about her experience trying to get into running, which she hated initially. She would tell herself that running wasn’t her thing, it felt awful, and it was too hard. This approach didn’t help, so she decided to run in a more positive environment: the beach, which made her happy. She also decided to run along the beach smiling and singing. That might not work for everyone, but the important thing to take from this is that you need to find something that you enjoy – the thing that works for you.
“Find something that generates positive emotions because that is the thing that will work for you.”
Sue tells us about her ‘Ta Da’ list, which is very different from a To Do list. This list includes things you can do for your wellbeing. Sue suggests doing five of these every day. “Prioritise your wellbeing.”
Sue Langley, master trainer, researcher and international expert in positive psychology, neuroscience and emotional intelligence presented this at Happiness & Its Causes 2016.