Neuroscientists worldwide are increasingly studying myelin and its amazing impact on rapid learning, mastery, and neuroplasticity. So keep your circuits strong with a deep, focused practice, but remember: myelination requires quality versus quantity.
What Is Myelination?
Myelination is the process of “insulating” a new neural pathway to strengthen it, and to forge new default behaviors. Heavily myelinated neural pathways are up to 300 times faster. They’ve been optimized for speed and efficiency. Increasing myelination via intentional practice helps us become more emotionally agile.
I’ve been using this understanding of myelin and the myelination process below with my executive coaching clients for the past few years. The results have been remarkable:
1. Anxiety removal: The COO of a $500 million consumer packaged goods company did three neuro-coaching sessions over a period of six weeks. Then I gave her myelination homework. One month later she no longer suffered from debilitating anxiety. It’s still absent six months later. This high-functioning CEO had suffered in silence for 47 years.
2. Managing emotions: A senior partner at a Fortune 100 financial services firm regularly got triggered by backstabbing and political maneuvers when dealing with some difficult partners whom he couldn’t avoid. He would get highly irritated, which affected his ability to be present and collaborative and to lead the team to the best outcome. We did four neuro-coaching sessions on this topic, plus myelination homework. He now navigates shark-infested waters with ease, diplomacy, and even a little humor.
3. Increased vision and innovation: The head of an R&D lab was stuck. He hadn’t had a good idea in ages, and the pressure was on, which only made matters worse. After three months of coaching and a few weeks of myelination practice, he designed three new products, with one already having preorders exceeding $100 million.
I ask clients to do the Myelination Practice (outlined below) I design for them for a minimum of 7 days in a row, five times per day, for only a few minutes each. For even better results, they do it for 10 days. What I find in coaching some of the top performers on the planet is that it is key to forge new—or turbocharge existing—pathways that are heavily insulated (myelinated) and that then become the default behavior pathways.
Let’s Start Myelinating!
To myelinate properly, you must do three things:
1. Try a new behavior, and persevere through the uncomfortable part of learning and stretching. Think back to when you learned the Outcome Frame. You had to spend 15 minutes doing it. Fifteen! Bet it felt like a long time. When you wanted to gloss over uncomfortable questions (like “What of value might you risk or lose?”), you had to sit with them, dig deeper, and find an honest answer. It’s like doing an extra set of reps at the gym when your muscles are screaming, or running the last mile in the race when you are exhausted.
2. Do this new behavior repeatedly in intense bursts (and short is OK). Repetition is key—myelin is living tissue: if you stop firing a pathway for 30 days, the myelin will start to break down. Did you play the piano as a kid? If it’s been years since you’ve touched one and try to play it, you’ll know what I am talking about. If you make this new behavior a priority by setting timers in your calendar or having a note next to your bed and on your desk, you’ll remember.
3. See, hear, and feel yourself doing the new behavior. Really get into it. Feel the good feelings, and be totally in that desired state.
Remember what Einstein said: “Imagination is everything—it is the preview of coming attractions.” Remember how you stepped deeply into the future you envisioned in the Outcome Frame to “test drive” the possible outcome? Do the same here. Dive in, all the way.
Imagination results in firing; repeated firing results in myelination.
Observing someone who is excellent at a behavior you want to acquire or grow also helps myelination. Innovators and thought leaders refuse to be “socialized into reasonableness,” into being told what is and isn’t possible. Don’t you cave in either!
- Heavily myelinated neural pathways are up to 300 times faster. They’ve been optimized for speed and efficiency.
- Myelinated pathways help us create new desired default behaviors, as the brain will choose the most highly myelinated pathways.
- Myelination with practice helps us become more emotionally agile.
Christine Comaford is a leadership and culture coach who helps businesses achieve growth. Learn more at SmartTribes Institute and see Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times and SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together. She is also the host of her own podcast, Crack the Behavior Code.