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Altering maladaptive lifestyle patterns: Core principles

The discussion so far has proposed that a gamut of problems usually exists alongside basic anxiety.  These problems tend to constitute somewhat maladaptive behaviours that bring about negative life situations, reduce life satisfaction and increase anxiety further.  A vicious circle is formed.  Underlying problems create anxiety, and generate maladaptive behaviours that stimulate further anxiety.  To reiterate our manifesto, I propose that to attempt to address underlying root causes of anxiety in the early stages of intervention, is likely to be too difficult and frightening a task for most anxious individuals: the underlying problem may have existed from early childhood and constitute a significant underlying personality attribute at this stage.  I propose that we initially address maladaptive lifestyle behaviours that result from underlying root problems, and in this way begin to alleviate some anxiety, and simultaneously, begin to experience and learn that long-term life satisfaction can increase as the direct result of making difficult, perhaps even traumatic lifestyle changes in the present.

In order to help explain how we change long-term maladaptive lifestyle patterns I will present the following analogy. 

An Example Demonsrating How We Learn New Skills: Learning to Play Music

If a musician wishes to learn a piece of music, the piece can be learnt simply by playing each section of the piece repeatedly.  If a section of the piece is played enough times, her brain will learn this section of the piece and she will then be able to play this section automatically, with no errors.  Initially the section may be too difficult to play at full speed, in which case she can simply slow the section down to ‘snail’s pace’ and play the section repeatedly until her brain has learnt it at the slower speed.  Once the section has been repeated enough times at ‘snail’s pace’ she will then be able to play the section slightly faster.  This process continues until she is able to play the whole piece at full speed. 

I have been a music tutor for 10 years, and the aformentioned understanding of how we our brain appropriates new skills and the ability to implement new behaviours has been a fundamental building block of my teaching.  As a musicien, I learnt that if an action is repeated enough times, the brain will learn this action and eventually the action will become automatic.  In the case of playing music this means that a piece can eventually be played without a person concentrating on playing this piece.  This is similar to when one learns to drive.  A new driver may initially be very aware of her internal monitoring of her every action.  For example, she may initially be very concious of her synchronising of gear changing with clutch holding and releasing.  However, an experienced driver can talk whist changing gears without being consciously aware that she is changing gears.  This is because she has repeated the action enough times that it has now become an automatic procedure requiring no conscious monitoring.