Novelty Practice - An Auxiliary Tool for Developing Healthy Coping Strategies
Supporting the development of New Coping Strategies
An Auxiliary Tool - NoveltyPractice
When you are working on developing new and healthy coping strategies, you must start by releasing old patterns or maladaptive coping strategies. These are the reactions to stressful situations that result in negative psychological impact. These unhealthy coping mechanisms includes avoidance, lashing out at others, lashing in at ourselves, numbing through sleep/drugs/food, doomscrolling, isolation, impulsivity, catastrophizing, over-working, etc. In order to release these old patterns, you must first develop awareness about why the unhealthy pattern exists. You can’t change what you’re not aware of.
One of the first things I do in therapy is an exploration of childhood. I work to identify the source of the maladaptive coping strategy, understand why it was created, and how it fits within the context of your past. This exploration begins to move the old pattern out from your unconscious mode of operations, externalizing it enough to be begin to loosen your identification with the pattern. Next, we connect with the energy of self respect, honoring how the old pattern served you or represented a time of limited resources and/or awareness in your past. Lastly, with curiosity we begin to imagine new ways of navigating conflict and stress so that we can replace the old pattern. The new strategy may involve self-regulation practices, physical activity, healthier communication, disrupting behaviors, creativity, boundaries, mindfulness practices, etc.
Even with the support of a therapist and the development of awareness and self-compassion developing new coping mechanisms can be hard. This is because our minds work in neuropathways, like trails through a field of tall grass. Whatever strategies have been used repeatedly(even if unhealthy) are the well-worn trails through the grass. So even if they don’t serve our highest expression now, we have survived by using them up to this point. They are cleared of obstacles and easy to move through, because they are familiar. Our mind is an efficacy master, constantly evaluating where new resources need togo and where we can be in auto-pilot. This means that if possible, our mind will default to well-worn neurological trails, because they require the usage of less internal resources.
However, we are not stuck in those patterns/trails forever. Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brain to change the neural pathways it uses to control response to external and internal stimuli. Through growth and reorganization, new neural networks can be created (or rewired) that result in new patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A Novelty practice is a cognitive intervention that increases neuroplasticity and in doing so, indirectly supports the development of new coping mechanisms.
A Novelty Practice, is when you respond to a familiar stimulus with a new behavior. To start, choose a behavior that you do daily in your life, and then create novelty in that routine. A good example is brushing your teeth. This is a habit that most of us do daily with relatively low consequences if we do not do it correctly or in a familiar way. If you’re right handed you can practice brushing your teeth with your left hand. This is a low stakes behavior change, ie the ripple effects in your external world are minimal – which hand you use to brush your teeth does not create a significant negative or positive impact on your day. However, in your mind, this practice engages awareness and will, forcing your mind and body to move from a well-worn trail/auto-pilot neuropathway to create neurological activity. Try it out, you may be surprised at how uncomfortable it is, which demonstrates the mind’s strong resistance to change, even in unimportant areas of your life.
Our mind has safeguards that activate our nervous system whenever we engage in novelty. These safeguards serve us in two ways – they let us know that we’re going off path and cue us to pay attention. This can feel like anxiety and emotional overwhelm, created by the older brain structures responsible for survival. From a evolutionary standpoint novelty can be dangerous, because we’re leaving the familiar neuropathway that have worked so far, and moving into unknown territory where our fate is unknown and our inner resource requirements are higher. However, this new neurological territory is the place where neuroplasticity is cultivated, growth occurs, and new coping strategies are created.
The Novelty Practice helps us develop more tolerance for the“off-trail” psychological response. By engaging in novelty with awareness and will, you can stay in this discomfort longer, as you move off trail and forge a new path. As you develop more tolerance for this discomfort you also begin to develop more familiarity. This will transfer over and support you when you’re doing the uncomfortable work of developing healthier coping strategies. The novelty practice becomes the neurological training that supports the Game Time situations when you’re trying to make a High Stakes behavior change such as creating boundaries, working out instead of scrolling, facing a limiting fear etc. Therefore it can be a a powerful way of supporting the larger process of developing healthy coping strategies.