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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd


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Incremental Changing of Habit Patterns


In Transformational Psychology, traumatic incident phenomena are only handled when they have become a barrier to continued studies. An equally effective and all-encompassing approach to changing misconceived imprinted behavior and thinking patterns, is to learn new, more rational ways of behaving and thinking, in the form of skills that have application in broad areas of the individual's life.

This is the function of training in Transformational Psychology courses. Mental development has three aspects: Cognitive, emotional and behavioral. Letting go of a mental block can have sudden and dramatic results; the person may feel as if a large burden has gone. He or she can confront a task with enthusiasm and courage where before there were negative fearful emotions. There may be an insight into why the mental block was put there in the first place. Yet in many cases actual performance and ability remains unchanged - the dimension of behavior has been left unaddressed.

“Modern education neglects drills. Mostly it consists of grasping a principle in a stumbling sort of way. This becomes the shaky foundation of the next thing to be learnt but after few weeks, the structure falls down like a house of cards.”
behavior is determined by habit patterns imprinted or programmed in the brain, derived from, and re-enforced by, the person's typical lifestyle - the way he or she confronts and handles the problems and challenges of life. New habits require new connections in the brain and this requires conscious effort.

The brain is capable of working subconsciously on automatic programs. For example, you do not have to think consciously about which muscles to move, when you decide to reach out your arm. Similarly we do not have to think consciously about many behavioral patterns (if we did we'd never get anything done). When such programming is irrational, inappropriate behavior results. This is the price we pay for the advantage of a variable threshold to consciousness (i.e. not being submerged under a mountain of sensory input).

Unless this behavioral dimension is examined, habitual ways of being and doing in the world will act as a form of auto-hypnosis and before long the mental block will unconsciously be put back in its familiar position, accompanying the habit pattern, and will start to re-assert itself.

So removing emotional or mental blocks does not necessarily produce gains in ability or change in behavior; behavioral change requires a determined and persistent act of willpower in the real world, and frequently the learning of new skills and the development of new habit patterns with which to carry them out.

To learn to sing, play an instrument or think with a trained mind, and to do this with above average ability, requires hundreds of hours of practice, normally in the form of practical exercises or drills.

Modern education neglects drills. Mostly it consists of grasping a principle in a stumbling sort of way. This becomes the shaky foundation of the next thing to be learnt but after few weeks, the structure falls down like a house of cards. Only a last-minute cramming of data before an end-of-term exam, demonstrates that anything has been learnt at all.

Outside of music, sports and the military the concept of overlearning has been all but lost. In the army a lot of time is spent taking a gun to pieces and reassembling it, until this can be done blindfolded in an instant. In learning to play the piano, scales are repeated thousands of times. In this way no further attention has to be put on the skill when it is used in actual practice and attention can instead be put on finer skills such as tactical manoeuvres or musical interpretation. Under stress, the skills will not let the person down.

Overlearning will be familiar to all those who drive a car; thousands of hours of practice have made the skill automatic. All automaticities have in fact, consciously or otherwise, been overlearned in this way, and they will not surrender their grip unless they are replaced by overlearned new ways of thinking and acting. That the brain is re-programmable in this way throughout life, is little known, and reassuring for those of us determined to break through our evolutionary limitations.

Another key aspect of learning is the necessity of improving ability and acquiring knowledge, in small incremental steps, each of which is manageable. The size of increment will vary for each student so that an element of challenge maintains interest. With this gradient approach, the student does not become overwhelmed by demands that are beyond his capacity. Furthermore, by overlearning at each increment, the newly learned pattern is continually nudged up-and-up towards higher ability - the brain is able to replace the old pattern with one only slightly different as this only needs minor 'rewiring'.

Although the student probably could do the exercise for a while with a steeper gradient, the new pattern would be too different from the old and would not replace it stably; a ceiling of ability would soon be reached. The slow incremental approach will, in the end, build up to a much higher level of ability than would have been the case by 'going for broke', and this ability will be completely stable.


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