The Neuropsychology of Change and the Refusal of the Masses!

By Bob Davies

Jesus said, “The road is narrow, few will choose”. You can’t say it any better than that!

I’m speaking in front of 10,000 people on the main platform for one of the most prestigious meetings in the financial services industry, the Million Dollar Round Table. In that meeting I will give the audience a step by step system that is so precise it will yield a guaranteed result. It involves weight management through the avoidance of flour and sugar and the following of a precise way to weigh and measure food.

Statistically at least two thirds of that audience and possibly 100% will be interested in how they can lose weight. My question is, keeping in mind that I will be giving them a proven step by step formula to reach the goal they say they want to achieve, how many will actually implement my teachings? Can you believe that there is a possibility of none?

Don’t you think that is an amazing possibility? If it’s only 1% that means that 100 people will change their lives through the application of what I will teach them. This continues to stump me. People will tell me that they want to lose weight and I tell them they will need to avoid flour and sugar and they refuse to give up pasta, or pizza, or that buttered bread they so desire at dinner.

According to USC social psychologist Wendy Wood, in a study on the “Take 5” program, 35 percent of people polled came away believing they should eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day. Looking at that result, it appears that the national program was effective at teaching people that it’s important to have 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. But the data changes when you ask what people are actually eating. Only 11 percent of people reported that they met this goal. The program changed people’s intentions, but it did not overrule habitual behavior.

I’ll take an 11% hit ratio. That will mean that at the MDRT talk I will have helped to change 1,100 lives!

So the curious and research oriented part of me asks the question, why is implementation so low? I’ll need to examine this on several different levels. First the psychological. We have three voices constantly clamoring for our attention. The first is the good voice. This is the goal oriented voice that supports you in reaching your goals. You can expect to hear this voice about an estimated 25% of the time.

The second voice is the bad voice. This is the instant gratification, instinctually driven voice that wants it now. You will be greeted with this perspective 35% of the time.

The third voice is the vision and purpose voice. This is the “why” voice. You will be hearing this voice approximately 60% of the time.

The problem is that most people don’t have their mission, their purpose, their vision, their connection to something bigger than themselves developed so it’s absent. What’s left if you take this voice away is a losing proposition, 35% beats 25% every time. However, if you develop your mission, vision and if you act on purpose connected to the bigger picture then you have a ratio of 85% to 35% and that’s a winning hand.

So how do you connect to the universal energy (Google quantum physics) and tap into your greater self? You start by asking and answering these questions. Why bother? What am I building? How much is enough? What is the big picture? What is the benefit of having-fill in the blank? In this case you will need to be clear about the purpose of losing weight and what weighing less will give you. What benefit will achieving this goal give you? What purpose will achieving this goal allow you to fulfill. The more clearly you can identify this the stronger and more frequently that purpose voice will appear. You’ve got to take some time to write this out. Give it some thought and follow this formula;

Feature-losing weight. + Benefit-more energy. Then ask, what will having (benefit) give you? What will having more energy give you? How about being healthier. What will being healthier give you? Maybe the answer is you will exercise. What will exercising give you? Live longer. What will living longer give you? More time to influence my family and to guide and love them.

Now you can see that changing your habit is linked to the love of your family. Now that’s a purpose.

I’ll grant that this is not scientifically based. It is a bit theoretical and psychological. I’ll discuss more in this arena and then get to the science.

Changing habits will follow these three stages.

1. Unbearable.
2. Uncomfortable.
3. Unstoppable.

Keep in mind that your perceptions are illusions. Yes, they are persistent but illusionary none the less.

When you approach change of any kind you are very apt to feel that it is absolutely unbearable. Why is that? This is now the time for some science.

Much of our daily lives are taken up by habits that we’ve formed over our lifetime. An important characteristic of a habit is that it’s automatic– we don’t always recognize habits in our own behavior. Studies show that about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations. Habits emerge through associative learning. “We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response,” Wendy Wood explains in her session at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention.

Our brain is genetically designed to conserve energy. From a biological perspective answer this question, what is the purpose of your life? Before you start to say world peace, prevent global warming or to leave a legacy to your family, remember I prefaced “from a biological perspective”. The answer is to pass on your genes, period!

Any genetic expression adaptation that favors survival is likely to be passed on. It favors survival to be able to code networks of neurons, habits, together for ease of firing. Once these neurons form a network they also develop a thick myelin sheath covering which creates faster firing saving more energy.

Charles Duhigg states in his book, “The Power of Habit”, a trigger occurs that leads to the routine, which is the behavior itself; then there’s the reward and that’s how the brain learns and encodes this for fast future use.

As humans we have very limited perceptual bandwidth. Since our perceptual abilities are so limited human genetic coding prefers us to form neural networks that are easy to stimulate and lead to fast and automatic firing. This saves energy and frees us up to default that narrow bandwidth of attention to our threats. We are genetically coded to be negative, to be victims, to see obstacles not opportunities. It favors survival to look up and see figure 1 and respond non consciously as if it was figure 2.


Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

This is a non conscious adaptation that favors survival. Regarding our brain, there are three major areas of concern regarding habits.

The outer cortex area of the brain is our logical, analytical, planning and executive thinking part of the brain. It is very expensive brain real estate from an energy use perspective. The orbital frontal cortex, the area right behind your eyebrows, is the area of the brain that executes your conscious will. It is very finite with a limited amount of available energy.

The limbic area is the emotional, instinctual part of the brain. This area has direct neural connections to all of our senses. In other words, if you look and see a spider on your arm you will completely bypass the analysis of the cortex and immediately shoot a stimulus directly to the amygdala in the limbic system which will have you scream and jerk your arm away while simultaneously swatting that spider off. Your heart rate will increase and a host of additional physiological responses of the fight or flight response will instinctually occur.

It’s only after that response that you realize that it wasn’t a spider at all but a piece of plastic. Cave man didn’t have the luxury of evaluating; it takes to long to figure it out.

The brainstem is the autonomic nervous system, breathing, heart rate, etc.

Breaking a habit leads to what is referred to as “cortical-limbic loops”. Here is how it looks from a neurological perspective.


Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

Figure 6

Figure 6

Figure 4 shows a dense bundle of never fibers with cortical-limbic extensions and connections. This is what a habit looks like. This is a strong and fast reacting thinking pattern that bypasses the cortex and leads directly to the emotional act. Feel a sensation, go to the refrigerator. Have anxiety, eat flour and sugar. Breaking this connection at first appears to be unbearable.

If you are driven by your purpose and connection to a higher vision you can then start to develop a new neurological pathway as you see in figure 5. This is when your new intended behavior is in the uncomfortable stage. This is where you would need to practice the philosophy of using your will, the orbital frontal cortex, to maintain the behavior. This requires a very strong intention backed by accountability. In other words, you can’t do this yourself.

An estimated 2.1 million people seek help from AA each year and as many as 10 million alcoholics have achieved sobriety. One of the cornerstones of their 12 step program is to surrender your will to a higher power and to have the accountability that comes from making commitments to a sponsor. This is very much like my behavioral contracting methodology.

Through persistence and conscious repetition you will eventually populate your neurons to develop a new desired network, or habit, figure 6 and now you have developed your new behavior. Repetition is key. Studies have shown it can take anywhere from 15 days to 254 days to truly form a new habit. This refers to these neurological connections creating cortical-limbic loops.

Figures 7-9 shows this from a single neuron perspective.

5 6 7

I use this to show how a different response can be wired in for the cue of frustration. Figure 7 shows the triggering stimulus, something happens, that leads to the wired in response of frustration. Next using your intentions, your will power, you have an intervention. This needs to be driven by the limbic area of the brain so you will need to declare the action plus a painful consequence such as a $100 fine. For example, every time I notice myself beginning to get angry I stop, and repeat that I respond to frustration with fascination. If you don’t apply this conscious intervention then you will have to pay another person the painful penalty of $100. This engages the limbic area of the brain.

With conscious repetition, you will actually see the previous wired in response of figure 7 beginning to deteriorate and a new response begins to get established, figure 8. With additional repetition, (remember the 15-254 day rule of thumb) this goes from being unbearable, through uncomfortable to unstoppable, figure 9. Now you can see what is called synaptic pruning, where you are strengthening the new response, habit, and dissolving the previously unchallenged response, the circle in figure 9.

Too much science? Sorry, but that’s my style. I’m not big on wishful thinking. I want to see the objective data that is proof of claim. This is referred to as brain plasticity and it is proof of my claim;

“You have far more capacity to create the circumstances and events in your life then you are aware of”.

You can create the formation of new neurons in the orbital frontal cortex through meditation. Meditation for as little as five minutes a day will create neurogenesis, new nerve cell development and it will also increase the size of the insula, a fold of tissue directly under the orbital frontal cortex that is responsible for meta cognition, or awareness of your sensations.

Be a student of human behavior. Have faith in the process. Meditate for five to ten minutes a day, be a life time student of learning and make weekly commitments to someone else with painful penalties for non performance until your old habits are stopped and your new habits are formed. Then you will have gone from unbearable, through uncomfortable, to unstoppable. Now you will have 65% of your mind power driving you to be, do and think the way that you need to so you will be the best version of yourself, every day.

Bob Davies
High Performance Training, Inc.
Bob Davies, M.Ed. Psychology, B.S. Health, MCC Master Certified Coach
20992 Ashley Lane, Lake Forest, CA 92630-5865
949-830-9192 fax 949-830-9492 Email: Website: On-Line coaching

Named in the Top 100 Minds of Personal and Professional Development, World-wide by Excellence Magazine.


Permission granted to publish this article with Resource information included: Bob Davies High Performance Training, Inc. 949-830-9192 Permission also granted to edit this article.
Bob Davies
High Performance Training, Inc.
20992 Ashley Lane
Lake Forest, Ca 92630

The Coaching Conversation

I recently participated on a panel as one of four the top coaches in the USA. It was quite an honor to be selected and it was interesting to see the approaches of other coaches considered to be leaders in the field.

It became very apparent that I have a different and unique approach. I thought I’d share it with you. My approach is a combination of the best practices of elite performers and laws of science.

If you look at a definition of coaching you will see that it’s a partnership designed to forward and enhance the life long process of human learning, effectiveness and fulfillment. This operates from the major assumption that people want to live in excellence and continue to learn and become for effective and fulfilled.

I’ve rarely come across someone who doesn’t say that they want this but most people don’t believe that they can have change and improvement so they simply don’t try. They live their lives in resignation believing that they are doing the best that they can be doing.

I challenge people about this. I ask, “Do dogs love bones?” almost everyone will say yes. I reply, “No they don’t. They love meat, they settle for bones!” Where are you living your life in resignation believing that you are doing the best that you can be doing.

This type of analysis is not good or bad, it just is. So I’ll ask you to look inward without judgment. If you go to judgment you will become defensive and justify your circumstances. This will prevent personal and professional growth.

As a result of the coaching conversation that I have with people they will have the following experience. I use this triangle as an anology.

They will see things differently then they have on their own in the past, new perspectives. They will be challenged and they will be held accountable. My approach also cares about how they are as a human being, how fulfilled they are, their mission, their fun and passions. Also included is their actions. Are they doing not only the right kinds of activities but enough of them for a result to occur. That’s human doing.
I start at the bottom of the triangle, physiology. This is the foundation. Almost everyone that I work with is on my health program. Some are not. I have a coaching commandment that states the following; “Your lifestyle is an asset, not a liability”. This is backed up by another commandment, “What I can control, I must control”. I also embrace the serenity prayer and add that as a coaching commandment as well, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” We go for progress, not perfection.

Also a major part of this foundational base of my coaching triangle is attitude. All behavior is driven by neurons, your brain. Attitude is mind set. It’s a set of beliefs and neurological networks call schemata’s. These are wired together bundles of neurons that make up a habit. We must control our attitude.

Science says there is no dispute about this. Your thinking is an electrical impulse that generates the release of chemicals. These chemicals (neurotransmitters) have a charge and like attracts like so it is your thought that creates your reality. I like what the noted biologist Benjamin Libet says, “Reality is in the mind of the observer”. This is a quantum physics discussion for another time.

Have you seen the mathematical “Coincidence or Not?” formulas? It states the following;




1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26


K + N + O + W + L + E + D + G + E

11 + 14+ 15 + 23 + 12 + 5 + 4 + 7 + 5 = 96%

H + A + R + D + W + O + R + K

8 + 1 + 18 + 4 + 23 + 15 + 18 + 11 = 98%

Both are important but fall just short of 100%


A + T + T + I + T + U+ D + E

1 + 20 + 20 + 9 + 20 + 21 + 4 + 5 = 100%

Is this a coincidence? Well the world is made of math. Language is the math of communication. There are no mistakes in the universe, who knows. It’s a very interesting observation that is supported by science. For example, a positive attitude works in opposition to the emotional amygdale in the limbic system, the emotional area of the brain, by keeping electrical activity in an area called the septum. With positive thinking the septum is activated and that opens receptor sites for brain chemicals associated with focus, attention and well being. There is a scientific reason to be training your attitude.

Physiology, attitude, mind set, beliefs are ongoing processes of discovery, trial and error, failures and successes and are constantly being developed in my coaching.

Next I jump up to the top of the triangle, Goals. We must ask and answer these questions;

1. What do you want?
2. What are you building?
3. Why bother?
4. How much is enough?

This includes your mission, your vision, why you exist, what your philosophies are as well as the specific targets.

Next will come a discussion on the tactics that you will use to reach those goals. This includes staffing, campaigns, marketing, etc.

This is followed by a discussion about your metrics, what you can observe and measure as well as the systems that need to be in place to execute your plan.

Next the following questions are asked;

1. What do you need to do to have what you want?
2. What do you need to do this week?
3. What will you do this week, your commitment?
4. How will you be held accountable? What is your behavioral contract!

This is a powerful conversation to have. Remember, change is very, very difficult. The reason is due to how the brain works creating neural networks of bundled neurons that wire together and fire together. They become dense and fire fast.

I have mentioned in previous articles how change goes through three stages;

1. Unbearable.
2. Unconfortable.
3. Unstoppable.

Most people won’t make it through the unbearable stage. It takes a reason to persist. You’ve got to have a clearly defined WHY! If you do persist however, you will generate new neurological patterns, called brain plasticity, and then move to being unstoppable.

It’s a matter of purpose, passion, excitement, planning and accountability. I have my clients follow the following steps of their program;

1. Constant learning fosters neural genesis, new brain cell development. So, they read one page a day from my “Day Book’.
2. Meditate 5-10 minutes every day. Meditation strengthens the development of the outer cortex, it enhances the mylenation of the neurons for faster and easier firing and increases meta cognition, a noticing of your feelings and sensations.
3. Precise previous planning prevents poor performance. We do weekly behavioral contracts and embrace accountability.
4. Hire a coach!

That’s my menu for excellence. Make it a great day!