This is the third post on the cause of stuttering and this time it’s about stuttering as habitual behavior. The first article was What’s your stutterer type? – I’m the Ninja. And the second was What cause stuttering – there are 3 possibilities.
In this post on stuttering as habitual behavior we will cover:
- The layers between the brain and the air we breathe
- The layers between the skin and the skull
- The layers between the skull and the brain
- From the scalp to the brain in your hands
- The parts of the brain relating to habit
- What is habitual behavior – or what makes you act 40 % of the time without thinking
- Reducing cognitive load – or chunking your stuttering as habitual behavior
- There is a cue and it builds a highway of Dopamine in your brain
- It’s the process, not the product
- From stuttering as habitual behavior to fluency as habitual behavior – or how to reframe yourself
- Where to go from here
The layers between the brain and the air we breathe
It’s your brain and ultimately us who create our habits. Big surprise. Habits are hidden in the nerves inside our brain. Everybody has habits. They help to protect us and take care of us because not all habits are bad. It’s a good habit to drink water every day, and eat.
I used to think of habit, as something that’s just inside my brain. Until now I wasn’t sure where it was located. It probably was my entire brain. By understanding the brain it’s easier to know how to replace a bad habit such as stuttering as habitual behavior.
But before we can dive into how stuttering as habitual behavior is formed, we need to understand the brain. And writing about brain this is how it looks, of course.
This is how I imagine our brain to look like if you would open the skull and check it out. No blood, no mess, and no reason to wear gloves. Just nice and comfy. The reality is different, however. Our brain is like this:
It makes me sick too. Thank God it’s hidden away inside our skull. Disgusting.
The layers between the skin and the skull
I used to think we had hair, skin, skull, and brain. Turns out I was wrong. Before we get to have a brain in our hands, there are several layers protecting the skull and our brain. The first thing we touch is the hair. Then comes the skin, which consists of three layers:
As you can see both images have the Subcutaneous tissue. But in the first image, it’s specified what it is. After the Subcutaneous tissue, you would think, we finally reached the skull. That’s not entirely correct. The last layer before the skull is the Pericranium.
And then comes the brain, right? No. The brain is a sneaky son-of-a-bitch.
The layers between the skull and the brain
There are more layers protecting the brain:
We have the bone. The bone is a hard structure which function is to support the structure of the face and protect the brain, and surrounding layers.
Underneath the skull is three membranes. Their function is to protect the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is the part of the nervous system that is central. It means it’s the system closest to the brain and spine. The CNS consists of the brain and the spine. As mentioned before the CNS is protected by three membranes. They form the meninges and surround the brain and the spinal cord. They are:
- The Dura mater is the first layer underneath the skull. It’s the outermost of three layers that surround the brain. This membrane is loosely arranged, and have a lot of spaces. Its function is keeping in the Cerebrospinal fluid (spinal fluid). The spinal fluid protects the brain from damage. The Dura mater also create the 12 cranial nerves.
- The Arachnoid mater is the second membrane. Tt looks like spider web. From this membrane, spinal fluid can enter the blood stream. The space between the Arachnoid mater and Pia mater is called Subarachnoid space. It’s filled with spinal fluid and acts also as shock-absorption. Inside the Subarachnoid space is where spinal fluid is made. Every day 0,3 L fluid is released into the blood stream. The function of the fluid is immunological and mechanical.
- The Pia mater is the third membrane. It’s a meshwork of elastic fibers. These fibers form a bridge from the neural tissue underneath the Pia mater the Arachnoid mater. In other words, the fibers connect the Arachnoid mater and the Pia mater. You remember the image of the real brain, the blood vessels is in the Pia mater membrane, not the brain.
There is also a fourth membrane, but it’s different from the others. It’s a limiting membrane and it is not part of the meninges.
- The Glial limiting membrane act as a barrier against unwanted cells. It’s the last frontier to protect the brain. When cells die, we can’t have their corpse floating around, so the Glial cells eat the dead cells. This membrane is connected to the CNS.
Here’s a video of the layers being peeled off from the Arachnoid mater to the Pia mater and then the brain:
From the scalp to the brain in your hands
I’ll spare you from seeing the disgusting image from before. But the layers we’ve covered are to be removed in order to hold a brain in your hands. It’s not just the brain that is complex, also the layers before the brain are very complex.
But we are not there yet. Habits are not formed in the layers covering the brain. In the following, we focus on the parts relating to habit.
The parts of the brain relating to habit
Before we dive into the actual habit. We need to know what part of the brain is messing with us in stuttering as habitual behavior.
The parts of the brain involved in habit formation are:
- The Basal ganglia is a cluster of neurons, that play a huge part in relation to movement control, cognition, learning, and routine behaviors or “habits”. The Basal ganglia are related to other nucleis (clusters of neurons) that are categorized as input, output and intrinsic nuclei. The input nuclei receive information from different sources around the body. The output nuclei send information to the Basal ganglia. Finally, the intrinsic nuclei are located between the input and output nuclei. The largest component of the Basal ganglia is the Striatum.
- When the Striatum, which is 10 cm3 big, receives information it needs to be processed within the Basal ganglia system. The output nuclei project to the thalamus which in turn project to the Frontal lobe (where the Prefrontal cortex is part of the Frontal lobe). The main function of the Striatum is to mediate reward, Dopamine, to the Frontal lobe.
- The Frontal lobe (Prefrontal cortex) receives the reward and thus is confirmed that the current behavior is great. The Dopamine provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforces us to do what every activity we are doing. It other words, it motivates us.
- The Substantia nigra plays an important role in relation to the reward-system. The effects of the Substantia nigra is mediated through the Striatum because the Substantia nigra uses Dopamine neurons to send information to the Striatum.
It’s as simple as that. This is where stuttering as habitual behavior is formed.
So these are the parts related to habit because these parts of the brain control learning, routine behavior, and reward. But what is it that you actually do, that makes us define stuttering as habitual behavior. It begins when you wake up; at least that was the cue for me.
What is habitual behavior – or what makes you act 40 % of the time without thinking
Science tells us that 40 % of our waking hours our actions are purely automatic. A habit is neurological as is stuttering and that’s the reason it makes perfect sense to treat stuttering as habitual behavior. Habits and stuttering reside in your neurons and the actions performed is highways of connections between neurons. These connections ultimately form the habit depending on the reward.
Wood calls attention to the neurology of habits, and how they have a recognizable neural signature. When you are learning a response you engage your associative basal ganglia, which involves the prefrontal cortex and supports working memory so you can make decisions. As you repeat the behavior in the same context, the information is reorganized in your brain. It shifts to the sensory motor loop that supports representations of cue response associations, and no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. This shift from goal directed to context cue response helps to explain why our habits are rigid behaviors. – source
Most people think that to learn something new you have to destroy the old. But our brain is a complex network and the connections made between neurons does not easily go away. You cannot just fight it and then the habit will go away. It won’t go away because Dopamine has been connected to the action. You have to do something else.
Reducing cognitive load – or chunking your stuttering as habitual behavior
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A habit reduces your cognitive load. It allows us to free our mind for other types of activity. Waking up knowing who you are, reduce cognitive load. That’s why your brain made stuttering habitual behavior. When you wake, which seems like a simple task, all sorts of things happen in your brain. The way you wake up is made up by a series of steps, that you don’t notice because it’s automatic. It’s a habit. As part of your wake-up program, you have a subtask named remember being a stutterer. It saves energy to know who you are.
In order to reduce cognitive load, your brain includes all your behavior in a single chunk called waking up. So instead of you thinking about every little step on the way (opening your eyes, knowing where you are, lifting your arm, removing your blanket, rolling on your side, remember that you stutter, pushing off the bed, sitting upright, pushing off the bed again, walking out of your room etc.), you collect every action into one action.
You would be mentally exhausted even before your left your bed if you didn’t chunk this behavior and making it a habit.
Somewhere along your waking up procedure, you made stuttering habitual behavior. You made a belief about who you are part of your daily ritual. You might as well have thought: I like shoes.
There is a cue and it builds a highway of Dopamine in your brain
Habits can be good and bad. It all the depends on the outcome. According to Charles Duhigg, there is a loop that goes on every time you begin habit behavior.
- The cue is the trigger that launches your routine. The trigger is waking up/opening your eyes. A cue is just the trigger. It’s the routine that does the harm.
- The routine is what you do after you had your cue. The waking-up is combined into a chunk of behavior and routines that make it easy to get up. Inside the chunk of waking-up is a sub-task called “remember that you stutter”. This sub-task is triggered when you wake up. This sub-task is the routine for your stuttering.
- The reward is what you get out of the routine. Imagine you had to decide every day who you were. I’m an artist, I’m a CEO, I’m … It’s too hard on your brain. It increases cognitive load. Therefore the reward of your routine is that day in and day out you know who you are. The Dopamine rewards behavior. This is the reason why habits develop and continue.
- The belief is amongst the things that maintain your habit. And if you want to change your habit you must change the way you think about yourself. It’s just a small step in your wake-up chunk.
First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is a routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future […] Over time, this loop – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more and more automatic. – Duhigg, The power of habit
When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to others tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit – unless you find new routines – the pattern will unfold automatically. – Duhigg, The power of habit
Habits have such power over us because of the rewards they bring. It’s literally a neurological and chemical craving for the Dopamine. Once your brain expects a reward it will start building the neurological highways to enhance receiving Dopamine. But you can create an exit to another and more beneficial highway, that rewards another belief; the belief that you speak fluently and don’t have to identify with being a stutterer.
When you make new connections in your brain, you have to be proactive and you have to have both the mind and the body on the same page. It’s not enough just to think, that you will do something else. You have to actually perform the action with your body.
It’s the process, not the product
Learning how to focus on process is key to overcome stuttering as habitual behavior. It’s easy to avoid the project of becoming fluent because it makes you uncomfortable to think of the enormous task it is. How on earth are you ever going to make it? I’ll tell you how. By focusing on the process, and not on the product. Process is the flow of things, it’s the small steps that you see every day. It’s the “I’m going to prove to myself for 5 minutes every day, that I don’t stutter.” Product is the outcome in the long run. It’s the “I overcame stuttering.”
Process is the new habit. It’s the “Now that I’m awake I remember that I am fluent sometimes.” It’s:
Product is the solved problem. Overcoming stuttering as an event. It’s going from 0-100. It’s:
From stuttering as habitual behavior to fluency as habitual behavior – or how to reframe yourself
We want this:
Because you build upon what’s already working. Your morning routine works, but you have to fix a part of it. The part about your belief. What you practically wants to do is to have the same cue, but a different routine. The routine I’m talking about is no the entire chunk of waking up. It’s only the part about “Remember that you stutter.” You want to change that routine. And you will have the same reward because you will still know who you are.
Step 1 – the same cue
I don’t know what your cue is to your stuttering. For me, it was waking up. The first thing I thought about was that I stuttered. On top of that, it was also the last thing I thought about going to bed. Cues usually fall into one of the following categories: location, time, people, how you feel, reactions or events (Duhigg, The power of habit).
According to Duhigg, you have a cue, and I say in relation to stuttering you can have several cues throughout the day. You have to identify them.
If we focus on the morning cue. You still wake up, and do all the things you are used to. Except for the routine about your stuttering.
Step 2 – another routine
This is the crucial part of your reframing. We can agree that you stutter. That’s your routine. The routine is part of your belief system. And the routine of knowing that you stutter delivers a reward. But what if another routine, would deliver the same reward.
Exercise: The first thing in the morning say the following to yourself: “I speak perfectly fine in situation A, B, and C.. And I will do it every day.”
You can also say other things, but in this way, you don’t focus on what you don’t want. You focus on what you do, the process.
Every time you experience a cue, you repeat the exercise. I wrote the sentence on an index card and carried it around in my pocket. That way, every time I touched it I remembered the process I was going through.
Step 3 – the same reward
Why do you continue to stutter? What is your reward? For me, it was knowing who I was. And the fact that is was way easier not to do anything about it.
With the exercise in step 2, you still know who you are. You are a person, who speaks fine and fluently in situation A, B, and C. That is your reward.
Feel free to experiment with other rewards.
Step 4 – another belief
Over time you will get another belief about yourself. You will believe that you are a person, who speaks fine and fluently in situation A, B, and C.
You can do it, remember that. It’s alright to have off-days. It’s also a great idea to use visualization.
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The thing about habits is that they never go away for good. There will be something left behind. But think of it as going down an old road to your birth home and remember how it was. Then breathe in and remember that it’s not where you live now. That you have your own home on a Fastlane street.
Over time you will travel less and less to your old home and start making adjustments to your new home. The new home will be your primary concern and while adjusting and making it better and safer, you’ll make new connections and your stuttering as habitual behavior will decrease.
It’s a process and it takes time.
Where to go from here
Stuttering has been treated as a habit with Habit reversal training. And what you can do now is to go through the exercises above. The critical part is, that you want to do it, and that you believe in the process. The best way to get a good start is to go out and listen to other people talking. You will find, that they also stutter sometimes and that they also have non-fluent speech. This is your main ingredient in overcome stuttering as habitual behavior. This is the evidence, that you speak just like everybody else. Because no-one is perfect, not even those you think speaks fluently all the time.
Over time you will speak fine in situation A, B, and C, and that will continue to situation D, E, and F. Remember that a habit is formed during 18-254 days. But the average is 66 days.
The take-away from that study is that a new habit will take at least 2 months, so don’t quit after 3 weeks. Stick with the process for at least 2-3 months and you will see a difference.