An Easy Way to Rewire Your Brain
A mindfulness technique called Notice-Shift-Rewire can have lasting effects.
As a music educator, there’s a lot on your plate. It’s hard to juggle all that you’re being asked to do — from leading rehearsals to teaching harmony — and fit those tasks into an eight-hour box so you can also, you know, have a life. That’s why any stress-management tool is a must-have in a busy teacher’s arsenal. Today, we’ll look at a simple, yet effective, mindfulness strategy called Notice-Shift-Rewire.
Notice-Shift-Rewire is a three-step practice introduced by Nate Klemp, Ph.D., and Eric Langshur in their 2017 book, “Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing.” Klemp is from Boulder, Colorado, and is a former philosophy professor who received his doctorate from Princeton. He’s since become an expert in meditation (and he also plays a little jazz piano). Langshur, based in Chicago, has a background in healthcare and entrepreneurship.
The goal of Notice-Shift-Rewire is to help master executive attention. What’s executive attention? It’s the complex way our brain sorts out all the incoming stimuli, blocking out what’s not important and focusing on what needs doing. Picture yourself having dinner with a friend: You are focused on the great story they are telling you, not on the random guy in the blue shirt at the next table over or the sound of your fork on your plate. When executive attention is poor, according to Klemp and Langshur, too many stimuli are competing, which makes us feel distracted, unfocused and stressed. (Sound familiar?) Add in today’s fragmented environment — awash with distracting social media, incoming texts and multiple screens — and our poor brains are swamped.
Notice-Shift-Rewire aims to train the brain by focusing attention, and this repeated training literally forges new neural pathways. It’s a cool technique you can do anywhere. Here’s how it works.
The first part of the practice is to notice, or observe, what’s happening in your mind, using a neutral standpoint. Let’s say you had a really hard day teaching. You feel depleted and discouraged. Your brain starts whirring with negative, unhelpful thoughts — for example, “I should be better at this by now” or “I am not cut out for teaching.” But here’s the thing: Human brains are wired to glom onto more negative thoughts and experiences instead of positive thoughts and experiences. Giving negative thoughts more energy is what scientists call the negativity bias.
This Debbie Downer trait served us well while humans were evolving. What’s that dark cloud on the horizon? Do I hear a predator howling? Is this berry poisonous? Humans who survived all the obstacles in their environment were the ones who lived and got to pass on their genes. That happy-go-lucky guy contemplating a dandelion puff while the jaguar crept up behind him? Not so much.
So, step one is to observe your thoughts, without judgment, such as, “I notice I’m feeling tired and depleted.”
Now that you’ve noticed your brain whirring, Klemp and Langhsur propose, you have a choice. You can let your brain continue to spin-cycle through thoughts, or you can gently direct your attention to the present moment. You might, for example, focus on taking a deep breath — in and out. Or you might envision a forest and imagine how the pine trees smell, or your favorite beach and how the warm sand feels on your toes. This seems like you’re escaping your thoughts, but you’re redirecting your restless mind to a place of wellbeing and calming the nervous system.
Lastly, Klemp and Langshur suggest, spend 15 to 30 seconds savoring that feeling after you’ve made a shift from busy, disorganized thoughts to calm attention. This period of savoring is what helps the brain create new, more positive neural pathways. Over time, this leads to a greater ability to focus, increased productivity and greater life satisfaction, according to Klemp and Langshur.
Want to give it a go? Download a free guide to Notice-Shift-Rewire.