How Long Does It Take to Rewire Your Brain?

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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Published on

June 05, 2024

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Updated on

June 05, 2024

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens

Brain Retraining

Is it possible to rewire your brain?

So, you caught yourself doing that thing again, huh? That thing where you scroll on your phone, bite your fingernails, or go over scenarios in your head that will probably never happen? That thing that you don’t even notice yourself doing until 30 minutes have gone by, and now you’re on your friend’s sister’s cousin’s Facebook page, and you don’t quite know how you got there? Not to worry. Just try this:

  • Take a nice deep breath, shake out your arms and legs, and come back to the present moment. Guess what? You just rewired your brain.

It seems way too simple, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. The concept of neuroplasticity shows us that the human brain is incredibly malleable at any age. So, no matter how long you have been building a habit, you have the power to change it! Rewiring your brain is a simple process that involves awareness, intention, and repetition. Nevertheless, it is possible, and it can be broken down into three main phases.

Does it take 21 days to rewire your brain?

Prior research from the 1960s stated that it takes 21 days to build a habit, but that research has since been debunked. “There’s no such thing as 21 days to start a new habit,” Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, says. “The amount of time it takes will vary from person to person.”1 In general, habits that feel more pleasurable in the moment are easier to form, while less pleasurable (but with generally better long-term effects) are more challenging to form. It is much easier to eat a piece of chocolate every day than it is to finish an hour-long workout. This is often the case because short-term pleasure produces an influx of dopamine, also known as the feel-good chemical. It takes 10 seconds to eat a piece of chocolate and, well, an hour to feel the dopamine rush of that workout.

This very same reason is why substance abuse and addiction are so easily created. Think of those neural pathways as a path covered in light dust, while the pathways to a healthier life are covered in boulders, weeds, and snow. It is much easier to sweep the dust away, creating a clear path for walking, than it is to clear the contents on the other pathway. It is generally much easier to choose pleasure over challenge, especially the first time.

Nevertheless, we understand that leaning into challenges is a valuable key to rewiring the human brain. Without struggle, we cannot grow; moving through the challenges of rewiring your brain can take you places you never thought possible. If we are going to choose to move away from old, limiting pathways towards new neural pathways awareness, intention, and repetition are so valuable.

What is the brain rewiring process?

The first step in reprogramming your brain to change a habit involves bringing awareness to it. Scrolling your phone, biting your fingernails, or going over scenarios in your head that produce anxiety and fear can all be changed. Simply start by identifying the habit and then decide how you would like to respond when you become aware of yourself participating in that habit. This moves you away from acting on subconscious thinking or behavior. Instead, it moves you towards creating conscious thought patterns and choices. The more you use your prefrontal cortex (also known as your reasoning or decision-making mind), the more aware you are of your habits, and the more empowered you are to choose to change them!

The second step in the brain rewiring process is to create intention. Once you have identified the habit, create an intention to put it “on a shelf” for that moment in time and choose to do something different. It could be literally anything different; you are still interrupting the old pathway and creating a new one! The best part? If you have a specific new pathway you’d like to create, this is a great time to do so.

The third step in the process is repetition, repetition, repetition. The more you choose to pause the old habit and replace it with the new, you strengthen the new connection, thus making it much easier to automatically choose the new habit as time goes on. This concept is called automaticity.

For example, with almost any habit, you can try these steps

  • Acknowledge the initial habit (be kind to yourself!)
  • Choose a new habit you would like to create instead of the initial habit
  • Consciously decide to put your initial habit “on a shelf”
  • While your initial habit is “on the shelf”, choose to engage in the new habit
  • Celebrate yourself- You just rewired your brain!
  • Repeat as many times as you need to in order to create automaticity

How long does it take for a new neural pathway to form?

As mentioned previously, Charles Duhigg reminds us that the amount of time to create new neural pathways can vary from person to person, but there are some general rules to follow. In creating a new habit, you may want to follow the process of “Isolate. Integrate. Improvise.” This process can be combined with the general brain rewiring process referred to above and might look like this:

  • Start by doing portions of the activity on their own. Isolating them from other parts of the activity will allow your nervous system to fully integrate each step of the process before putting them all together. It’s similar to learning a new language. You begin by learning one word at a time before combining them to create sentences. 
  • Next, you will begin to integrate each portion of the activity together. This will engage multiple parts of the brain, thus further enhancing your brain’s ability to create a new pathway. This is where repetition becomes very valuable. The more neural synapses you create, the more clear this pathway becomes.
  • Lastly comes your ability to improvise! The closer you get to mastering an activity, the easier it becomes to perform on the fly. Consider learning to play the guitar. You may begin by learning each chord separately, then play the chords together to create a song. Once you have the first steps down, you may be able to listen to a song and play it on its own. 

Generally, each of these three steps can take 30-90 days to before seeing brain changes. With that in mind, it can take anywhere from three to nine months to create and integrate new neurons, thus rewiring your brain.2

How do you rewire your brain for recovery?

When we discuss rewiring our brain to promote recovery from physical or mental health challenges and promote improved well-being, the same strategies apply! The presence of brain plasticity has been proven to last throughout our lifetime, so no matter your current circumstances, whether it’s addiction recovery or another physical health issue, neurogenesis (the process in which new brain cells are created) can help you!

re-origin has created a brain rewiring program backed by neuroscience that helps you do just that! Instead of learning a new language or how to play the guitar, you will learn all about how brain function impacts physical and mental health. In addition, you will learn what you can do to rewire negative thoughts and behaviors in order to promote improved brain health!

The most common portions of the brain that contribute to negative thoughts and behaviors include the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the hypothalamus. Together, these areas of the brain make up your “Limbic System” and can be directly impacted by physical or mental health disruptions. When considering rewiring your brain for recovery from such disruptions, awareness, intention, and repetition will be extremely helpful:

  • Draw awareness of the thoughts and behaviors you want to change due to limbic system involvement. This may include experiencing fear due to an overactive amygdala or flashbacks from your hippocampus. No matter what you become aware of, be kind to yourself. Your Limbic System is only trying to keep you safe.
  • Set an intention to actively put your thoughts and behaviors “on a shelf” while consciously choosing to think of or do something else.
  • Do this over and over again. Some days, you may need to rewire by thinking or doing something differently hundreds of times. Consciously choosing a new pathway of thought or behavior is a long process, but it can help your brain heal!

You can also learn to do this by isolating, integrating, and improvising. This may look like:

  • Isolate your new thought process/behavior by saying a simple affirmation every single day, such as, “I am on the road to recovery.”
  • Integrate your new habit by consciously choosing this new affirmation each time you become aware of yourself engaging in thoughts that aren’t serving you.
  • Improvise this habit by choosing to challenge yourself to new activities you may have avoided because of your disempowering thoughts. Get out of your comfort zone!

Because of the many variables included in the human body and each of our own experiences, re-origin recommends participating for at least six months to a year in order to optimize brain rewiring for healing. This process may take longer than something like learning to play the guitar, but the impact cannot be overstated. You have already rewired your brain by consuming the concepts and information from this article. You might as well keep the momentum going! If you are interested in learning more about our program, schedule a free info call today.

References

  1. What Does It Really Take to Build a New Habit? (2021, October 11). Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/02/what-does-it-really-take-to-build-a-new-habit
  2. re-origin®, P. R. B. |. (2022, December 20). How Long Does it Take to REWIRE Your BRAIN? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYDdpLbN3S4&feature=youtu.be

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

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