Friday, January 28, 2011

All the difference . . .

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-- Robert Frost

Growing up, this was one of my favorite quotes from any poem. It meant I could live my life the way I wanted to live it, not the path that had been previously laid out for me. Here was one of the most beloved American poets giving me permission to venture forth on an unbeaten path.

I did not understand then how much it relates to our brains, to being a good lawyer, to being a good person, and to yoga. On one level, Frost is talking about our samskaras, our habitual patterns that drive our lives and cause us to drive to a location without even thinking about it.

In the last post, we talked about how we get so involved in our patterns, our samskaras, that we believe it is the only way to see the world, our way is the “right” way. But learning to “look right” before crossing the street is a great reminder that there is no right or wrong in so many of our patterns, only adaptations to the environment in which we live. Learning to diverge from this path of habituation can make “all the difference” in our lives, and the lives of those we encounter, especially our clients and other lawyers.

First, what is a habitual pattern in the brain? As a lay person, I know very little about science and the brain, but I do understand very, very basically how patterns are formed, and Frost’s poem is the perfect metaphor. Every movement, every thought, creates an electrical impulse in the brain, which fires from the synapses. The more often we fire the same synapse, the stronger the connection gets. It becomes a strong path, easy to find again because like the path in Frost’s poem, it has been differentiated from the other paths through use. Thus, altering this pattern, these synaptic links, requires forging a new path.

Forging a new path is not easy, but it is simple. It is simple because the individual steps required are not difficult to do. It is not easy, however, because it takes time and commitment to stick to the steps. The good news is that no machetes and axes are required as we might imagine they would be in Frost’s poem. Instead, some simple techniques can help us forge new pathways in the brain, and as the brain becomes more adept at forging particular new pathways, it becomes more adept at forging all new pathways, just like flexibility in one area leads to flexibility in others.

So what are the steps? Try to start walking with the opposite foot. I was in marching band for seven years, and now, seven years later, I still automatically start walking with my left foot. Making a conscientious effort to start walking with my right foot is difficult, but over time, it becomes easier as a new pathway is formed. Another easy technique is to clasp your fingers so the opposite index finger is on top. Clasp your fingers together – everyone has their “preferred” way – and notice the order of the fingers. Now switch the order, so the other index finger is on top and the opposite pinky finger is on the bottom (all the fingers change position). Notice how weird it feels. That is a new pathway being formed. Try taking a different route to work in the morning, even changing one road.

The best way is to notice your habits, notice what you do unconsciously, and then try to do that same action differently, but consciously. I have a new one coming up for me on Monday – driving on the left side of the road. I will report back soon. ;)

What are some of your favorite ways to change habits? Have you noticed it making “all the difference” in your life?

Namaste and Blessings!

© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved 


  1. Brave woman on new road in life...I hadn't thought about actually driving on those roads!

  2. Huge congrats on being in NZ!!

    This reminds me, my high school science teacher said once, "one way to make yourself smarter is to see what shoe you always tie first. Next time you put on your shoes, start with the other foot." I'm going to have to try that again! :-)