by: Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD
(the following is an expert from Lynette’s upcoming ebook, which will be available later in the year at www.lynettelouise.com)
Many years ago my then eight year old daughter started tightening her throat and contorting her face while making a swallowing sound that resembled a tic. I instinctively knew that non-judgmentally bringing an awareness to the action while then giving her reasons and motivators she would care about such as,
- “less attractive to boys”
- “it might hurt your singing voice”
- “the other kids tease people with tics”
- “teachers might misinterpret you as talking in class” etc.,
on why she should stop before it became a habit was the best way to avoid a future of embarrassment over the way she looked. Back then I didn’t know about feedback loops so I called them habits. Back then other adults worried about manners and taught social lying as proper and lady-like. Back then speaking clearly and honestly about another’s behavior was frowned upon. Back then wasn’t all that different from right now.
Thus, people thought my clearly pointing out her tic – albeit quietly – in the moment it happened was cruel. Fortunately I am not easily swayed by popular opinion. In fact, that is my deficit and my gift: As a rule I am impervious to social sharing. And so, no matter what the prevailing attitude of my choices was, I trusted myself in this domain as her mother and teacher. She was my daughter, my responsibility and, in this question of how to help her, I was steeped with certainty that I knew what to do. So I told her whenever and wherever it happened. I told her, kindly but consistently so that I might inform and enable her to choose a different path. I also told her immediately, within a second of the behavior, because I knew instinctively that quicker information leads to faster change. And we were trying to change something before it really got started. This innate understanding about the speed of information flow effectively influencing the speed of desired (or undesired) change is why I recognized the value of neurofeedback when I eventually came upon it.
[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]Neurofeedback gives information to the brain fast![/box]
Long before finding this therapy I understood that I needed to interrupt her from looping into a behavioral pattern and forming an undesirable habit. Then, as now, most people waited to see if a habit formed before taking action. However waiting to see means allowing it to form so that we can see. And now that we can see we know in our hearts that we are starting late. At this point most people experience regret making any action harder to take. It’s as if (in the early stages) we are afraid to expend unnecessary energy and/or cause, through our intervening, undesired results. Be assured that prevention is easier than correction because it’s faster and more efficient. Be comforted to know that there is no real downside to observing well and taking a respectfully planned action. Be motivated by the stories of others who have thwarted physiology’s presets. Be action oriented because procrastination is where the bigger problems lie.
Habits are hard to break and turn into labels that many people live with for life. Fortunately I had no real negative associations with tics so I placed no uncomfortable judgments on my daughter, and though I am sure there were many times when my pointing it out made her uncomfortable it also provided her with opportunity. In my opinion most people are comfortable with requested feedback and/or feedback shared by a common source (parent, teacher) in their life. It’s judgment that makes individuals act counter to their best interests and/or perceive feedback as criticism. It’s the act of calling it bad that often solidifies defensively ‘doing it anyway’ and forms habits out of undesired behaviors. So I was giving her feedback, even before I knew what feedback was.
I told her whenever she positioned her throat to tic. I explained my understanding of habit formation and the difficulty with quitting later because of the craving to engage in a tic that the habit creates. I motivated her and helped her relate to the ‘appropriate’ feeling in her face and neck by highlighting the success when her countenance was calm. I complimented her relaxed beauty and tic free expressiveness. I mirrored her tic and showed her how it looked. I did not make fun of her, though eventually we added humor. I never judged. I informed and as a result I gave her an awareness through feedback so that she might catch the tics and then reroute the behavior before it started. Thus we believed she would be able to not let them take hold or become unconscious behaviors. It worked!
Her tics diminished in number and eventually disappeared. I have no way to know what a lack of interception on my part would have led to and I don’t care. I like where we are. Though I do feel certain that leaving her unassisted with this problem would have grown a tic disorder because today, 30 years later, if you ask her about the tics then the craving comes back. Talking about it puts her right back in the memory and at this point she has to reroute the temptation again. Its well known that digging at a problem can give it back to you, so we don’t. We leave it alone and she doesn’t tic.
Knowing when you are done, when to leave it alone and move on, is important both in neurofeedback and in any other therapy used for remolding the brain.
In fact, knowing when to raise the bar is important in all things.