Over the last few years, I have read many books on personal change, particularly how to navigate the challenge of making lasting positive change. Dr Toleikyte has taken some of the best research, approaches, and thought Leadership in the area of change, and condensed these to create one easy to read book, Why the f*ck can’t I Change. There are many practical examples of how individuals can ensure that they are psychologically and physiologically prepared for any change journey. A real education in brain chemistry and the remarkable role of neurotransmitters in determining well-being, which is a core foundation when embarking on any change journey.
Big Message/ Key Quotes:
- Changing your habits – Both good and bad habits are there to fulfil a need, which can be physiological or psychological. The ability to change habits is based on the ability to manage the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The focus of the PFC is sensory representation, and to undertake information selection, and to be able to process that data. To keep the PFC in peak condition, there are several elements that play a role in changing habits; keeping it energised through managing stress, activating the reward centre of the brain to motivate change, and not to attempt to change too much at once. Attempting rapid change causes stress on the amygdala, the emotional control centre, so the idea is to start small and strengthen the new “good” habits through repetition
- Changing your emotions – there are eight main types of emotions. Each emotion is normally preceded by a trigger, which then in turn, leads to changes in physiology and behaviour. The ability to manage emotions is a function of the calmness of the amygdala, this state allows the brain time to shift its chemistry. Hence breathing and physical movement, coupled with hormones, all allow emotional responses to be managed well. Once the amygdala is calm the PFC can then kick in i.e. that part of the brain which allows rational decisions to be made, giving the ability to identify the most appropriate response to the emotion that has been triggered
- Changing your personality – our genetic material is responsible for c. 50% of our characteristics and traits, and a further 15% is influenced by how we were brought up. Broadly speaking after the age of 18, we have the ability to influence and change another 35% of our characteristic portfolio, which develops through the choices we make… in this developmental cycle, there’s no one left to blame… not genetics, Mum, Dad or our schoolteachers! If you are looking to change your habits then there are a number of steps that can help the process; the ability to change our perspective (brain bias), the elimination of any limiting beliefs that are normally preceded with words like should/could/maybe/possibly, and the ability to manage our mindset (more insights can be found in “Mindset” written by Carol Dweck). Recognising when we are being “fixed” and resistant to change, versus when we are in a “growth mindset”, where we are challenging our beliefs, and diverting our attention to those factors that we can also control i.e., those components that can help us move forward
- Changing your productivity – when we think about the fact that willpower and self-control are finite resources, it is better to try and establish how rituals and habits can be created as a way of managing productivity, as well as improving memory. These are exhaustible resources as noted by Chip Heath & Dan Heath in their bestselling book Switch, so strategies need to be devised to ensure success. Key elements that are important here are… to learn to give the PFC a bit of a break, so that it can rejuvenate itself. Whether that comes through via diet or exercise, or just good old-fashioned rest, these activities are key for overall brain health. Focus on one task at a time, as attempting to do too many things concurrently serves only to diminish our capacity to both remember and be productive
- Changing your brain health – the human brain contains approximately 60 different neurotransmitters, which are vital for brain health, and there are six that are responsible for controlling several different functions namely mood, performance, and sleep:
- Serotonin is responsible for mood management and its levels steadily decline during the day, and we should note that serotonin can only be replenished through sleep. To increase serotonin, increase physical exercise or spend time walking outdoors enjoying nature, as well as practising mindfulness
- Dopamine the “happy hormone” is responsible for our brain’s pleasure centre. It is this neurotransmitter that helps us to establish a sense of motivation. Right ways of triggering this response include; completing things on your “To Do List”, enjoying hobbies or hanging out with people you find interesting and stimulating
- Oxytocin is responsible for how we relate and connect to others. It is released through physical contact with loved ones, which can include our partner, children or pets. Oxytocin is also known as the bliss hormone
- Glutamate – is responsible for executive functions which covers memory, planning and talking. In fact, glutamate is used by 90% of all synapses
- Acetylcholine – relates to all physical movements and plays a significant role in learning and memory. It is essential to have a good level of it in your system, because it is also involved in some emotional responses, particularly anger and aggression
- Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Appropriate levels of GABA are needed to prevent mental overstimulation, helping to regulate levels of stress and anxiety. Lack of this hormone causes stress, insomnia and in some cases depression. The best way to increased levels of GABA is through either physical activity, breathing exercises or meditation
- To keep all six neurotransmitters working well there is a need to exercise, sleep at least 8 hours, eat healthily, take regular breaks, hang out with stimulating people, improve productivity through creating to do lists, and practise mindfulness and meditation
- Changing your decision-making – the whole process of making decisions is unique across everyone. There are several things we can do to make better decisions, and that comes through understanding which system has kicked in to support the decision-making process. Recognising when a decision is made on gut feel, versus the more rational/logical process, being aware of unconscious bias, and keeping in mind that there is never a perfect set of information available. Use what you have, and avoid making decisions when tired or in overwhelm
- Changing your Leadership – the main attribute of Leadership is willing followership – to be able to connect and empathise with others, and to influence them in the right way to perform at their best. This can only be achieved through taking time to understand the needs and perspectives of the team and individuals you lead. Without this comprehension, it is difficult to lead effectively, because most inspirational leaders are recognised for their ability to care, be mindful, have awareness of self and others and operate out of compassion
- Changing your communication – to ensure that conversation undertaken will be constructive, there are several considerations that come into play; selecting the right time, using the right environment, starting the dialogue in a calm state and being aware of the persons reactions, all need to be observed. Marshall Rosenberg, the well-known psychologist, was perplexed by the amount of conflict in the world and has made this the primary theme of his research. When it comes to non-violent communication there are several things to consider; the ability to identify observations, the ability to identify what feelings are involved, the ability to empathise with the emotional feeling, the ability to identify which needs are not being met and lastly the ability to request the actions that need to take place, for the situation to improve. Following this process ensures that a lot of time can be saved and misunderstandings can be minimised, allowing for a constructive dialogue to take place
Why read this book?
Dr Toleikyte unpacks several complex brain chemistry pathways in a way that makes it easy to understand the role that hormones and neurotransmitters play, in driving our behaviour and overall well-being. A very comprehensive read for anyone who is looking to better understand how to prepare themselves for personal improvement or development and are keen to understand the mind body connection in this context. Why the f*ck can’t I Change shows that in fact change is possible, and it is simply a matter of creating the right conditions for success.