Did you know it’s possible to change your mind?
You’re probably thinking, “Yes, my girlfriend does it all the time just to confuse me.” Haha, yes, but that’s not what I mean. I am talking about changing habitual patterns of thinking so that you react differently to situations.
You can learn how to stay in control of your emotions!
The human brain has the capacity to reshape neural pathways and change the way we think and act. It’s called neuroplasticity and gives us the power to prevent negative thoughts and encourage positive actions.
How we think has a profound impact on our lives. It dictates how we feel, what we do and what we say. How often do you do and say things you later regret?
Do you ever wonder why you are feeling glum some mornings? The next time that happens, try and remember what you were thinking about before you went to sleep the previous night. You will probably realise you were worrying or having negative thoughts about somebody?
Until the 1970’s, neuroscientists believed the functions of the adult brain were hard-wired and could not be changed. The old way of thinking was people are what they are and they will always be the same. Evidence to the contrary was chalked down as ‘exceptions to the rule.’
Yes, you did read that right. When science cannot provide answers to contradictory evidence, the issue gets pushed to one side and described as a “phenomena.”
Forty years later, neuroplasticity is becoming widely accepted throughout the scientific community. Although it is still not fully understood, efforts are being made to help people literally change their patterns of thinking. This ultimately changes their patterns of behaviour.
The human brain has the ability to reorganise neural networks which alter patterns of thinking. Thus we can change our belief systems and habitual ways of life that don’t serve us.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica states:
“Rapid change or reorganization of the brain’s cellular or neural networks can take place in many different forms and under many different circumstances.”
There are some extreme and fascinating case studies that have been performed under clinical conditions. And a great deal of evidence proves we can alter the way we think.
On a fundamental level, neuroplasticity means that anybody can change the negative views instilled in our mental programming into positive thoughts. By doing so, you will improve your mental and physical health. Negative thinking is self-damaging.
How does developmental neuroplasticity work?
Our neural pathways develop rapidly in formative years of life. By the time a child is three years old, the brain has developed 15,000 synapses (channels from one brain cell to others) per neuron.
The human adult brain has about 100 billion neurons.
Neurons perform multiple functions. They send information to the body telling it what to do, control our nervous systems and basically tell us how to think and behave. The latter is based on external influences such as parents, education, media, politics and general experiences in life.
When neural connections are reinforced by repetitive experiences, the signals become stronger, whilst brain cells that are not stimulated become weak. Underused neurons eventually fade away completely. But the brain has the capacity to grow more.
The strongest neural connections shape themselves into belief systems and as we get older, the information and experiences the brain processes become ingrained in our thinking and we become creatures of habit.
This is why the education system demands that children enter school when they are most vulnerable to brain washing. As children we are indoctrinated and infested with faulty programs that develop into limited beliefs in our adult lives.
Childhood is the most critical period for neural development. Our experiences during this time typically determine how we think, feel and act as adults. But what we learn during the early phase of life does is no value to us when we grow up.
From an early age, we are programmed with repetitive negative thoughts, mostly fuelled by the media, which in turn influences adults who then pass these negative ideas on to their children. Negative programming becomes a vicious cycle.
Negative thoughts ingrain themselves into our neural pathways and as a result become wired into our perception of reality. We then react erratically out of habit. Worry, anger, greed, paranoia, delusion and other fear-based reactions become the norm.
This brain activity takes place in the cerebral cortex, the cognitive brain that is responsible for emotion and thought. The cognitive brain is the emotional brain.
Although we cannot automatically order our brain to change how we feel instantly, there are methods of changing neural pathways so we can adapt to any given situation in a calm and positive manner.
The objective of neuroplasticity is to develop stronger connections from the left prefrontal Cortex that sends inhibitory signals to the amygdala.
The amygdala is in the centre of our brains and is essentially the control room. This is where our fight or flight mechanism is harboured. When the amygdala receives fear-based signals we react with negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or depression.
When you train your left pre-frontal cortex to send positive signals the amygdala will quieten down quicker and avoid you experiencing a sense of panic or other negative emotions. Neuroplasticity is the process of strengthening the signals.
Clinical evidence that neuroplasticity works
A series of clinical tests performed by neuroscientists showed that by corresponding mental and physical exercises, you can help to reorganise the neural networks in the brain.
By doing so, people that previously thought something was not possible come to realise it is possible!
A study performed on seven patients in Germany that could not walk is a good example of how neuroplasticity can work.
The participants were harnessed from above and put on a treadmill. The movement of the treadmill became the mechanism for the actions their legs should take in order to walk.
Over a number of weeks, the physical sensation of walking became embedded on the mind and repaired the damaged part of the brain that believed they could not walk. Together with positive thinking the neural pathways learned to understand the process of walking.
Of the seven patients that performed the study, three were able to walk independently, and another three could work under supervision. Only one failed to respond to neuroplasticity.
The potential for the brain to relieve suffering is real. Studies have garnered a growing body of evidence that brain cells can help cure Parkinson’s disease, cancer, strokes, depression, brain damage and much more.
Training the brain
Neuroscientists are now attempting to develop methods of training the brain. Techniques involve physical exercises, drug therapy and meditation. Let’s ignore the drug therapy for now. I am not convinced drugs will work anyway.
Physical exercises on the other hand put people in real-life situations whereby they can train their brain how to react. These exercises involve social situations, day to day activities, professional environments and any other reality patients are likely to find themselves in.
The military use neuroplasticity to train recruits. The documentary video “Top Secrets of the Human Brain” demonstrates how the US Navy conditions the minds of trainees to act calmly when under pressure. They do this by putting them in life threatening situations that train the brain how to react with composure even when under intense stress.
Physical exercises can be, and in my view should be, supported with mindfulness meditation exercises. Research shows there is a strong correlation between meditation and neuroplasticity.
Meditation strengthens the left prefrontal Cortex and can be used to build emotional resilience. This part of the brain is where we plan and imagine the future and exercise self-control.
It is also possible to attain moments of self-realisation during meditation or deep contemplation. By identifying your weaknesses and accepting you need to change, neuroplasticity can help you develop qualities of character that improve aspects of your life.
Furthermore, by using visualising techniques, you can imprint an image on the brain of how you want to see yourself. Remember I mentioned the prefrontal Cortex sends signals to the amygdala..?
The amygdala is where the pineal gland is housed. It is believed the pineal gland is the third eye, or the mind’s eye as it is more commonly known. This is a vital piece of machinery that helps us transform mental desires into physical reality.
The next time you meditate why not try training your brain. Even if you do not meditate in the traditional sense of the word, you can still try this exercise. Meditation is merely a term to mean concentration. If you prefer, just stare at a single point on the wall or ceiling.
Before getting into neuroplasticity training, it is a good idea to start with small changes. Peel away problems one by one. This way you will notice the difference and over time develop techniques that best work for you…
…but to get you started follow this process:
- Think about something negative in your life (a current situation, a person you have ill feelings towards, a character flaw you want to change)
- Observe your thoughts and feelings about your subject
- Resist being drawn into feelings of negativity (anger, fear, worry etc.)
- Now think about the situation or feeling from a positive perspective and observe how the mind can exaggerate situations to make them appear worse than they actually are
- Think of a *positive affirmation and repeat it to yourself over and over. The best time to do this is in bed as you are settling down to sleep
*Positive affirmations should relate to whatever thought you want to change. Remember thoughts evoke emotions which provoke actions.
So if you are quick to anger, your affirmation should be something like “I am a calm and reasonable person. I have no reason to be angry.”
If you get angry with somebody for a particular reason, base your affirmation around that. During your contemplation you should have observed a positive outcome to your situation.
A thought, otherwise known as self–realisation or moment of enlightenment, should have popped into your head at this time. If so, use that thought as your affirmation – it came from your higher-conscious so you can trust it.
If you do meditate, or want to learn to meditate, you might like to try a solar plexus mediation technique I developed. As the name suggests, the solar plexus is yellow like the sun and can be used to burn away negative emotions. It’s only neuroplasticity.