Neuroplasticity is the concept that the human brain changes form and output over time and that individuals can cultivate their minds to improve their health, increase happiness levels and ultimately change their lives.
Poor health habits like smoking often arise from the mind. Have you noticed the triggers that prompt you to turn to a cigarette? Are you more inclined to use cigarettes to release tension or relax, or when you are bored, angry or emotional? Research has shown that those with clear and happy minds are more likely to be in better health and adopt better habits.
One exercise that is useful in cultivating a healthy mind and focusing on positive health habits is visualisation. When you visualise something the same neural pathways are triggered as if you are actually doing it. Visualisation has been widely used by athletes as a way to improve their capabilities and performance.
In the same way, you can use visualisation to help you to give up smoking or any negative health habit through focusing on the habits you want to create.
Try this visualisation exercise:
• When you go to bed and again when you wake in the morning, spend five minutes with your eyes closed “creating your day”.
• Visualise yourself having a healthy day – see yourself moving through the day in a healthy way, experience what it would feel like to have healthy lungs, more energy and all the positive benefits you will gain from giving up smoking. See yourself leading a stress free and fulfilled life.
• In your visualisation you should also picture yourself starting new positive health habits to replace the times when you would normally turn to a cigarette. Picture yourself dealing successfully with any cravings or temptation. This might be a quick walk, a breath of fresh air, a five minute nature break, an engaging conversation with a friend.
• Through focusing on positive health habits (what you are trying to create) rather than focusing on the negative health habit (what you are trying to give up), you will create new neural pathways for health rather than triggering the same old neural pathways.
• At regular intervals through the day – morning tea, lunchtime, afternoon tea, dinner time - reflect on whether you are creating your day as you visualised. Take a mental pause to celebrate your achievements or bring the rest of the day into alignment.
It is important to commit to this exercise daily, even when you think you have your habit under control. Smoking is an addiction and therefore will bring challenges that require mental discipline and commitment. Training your brain is like training your body, repetition, practice and determination is the key.