Picture a freeway in a busy American city with layers of roads, by-passes, off-passes, cross-passes, etc., allowing vehicles to reach a destination. Millions of cars pass on these roads. Where once freshly poured pavement was smooth and even, it now has shallow grooves, marking where tires repeatedly drive. Add heat from the sun and those grooves become deeper engrained into the pavement.
Now try to imagine the neural circuitry of the brain. It is much like a complex network of roads that allow messages about the external and internal environment to travel to appropriate regions of the brain for processing. Roads in the brain are made of neurons, nerve cells, that are linked through synapses. Some pathways of interconnected neurons have millions of messages firing to the same destination in the brain. Just as well travelled roads have deeper groves than roads less travelled, neural pathways also form deeper “grooves” when frequently activated by thoughts and experiences.
Learning to ride a bike
The brain is a pattern recognition organ formed through repetitive activation. It follows engrained pathways, namely, the ones frequently activated. For example, if we learn to ride a bike in which pulling the handlebar to the right causes right-handed movement of the bike, then that pathway for steering a bike becomes engrained in the brain. It becomes our default response each time we ride a bike. With time steering a bike becomes unconscious; it no longer requires active thought.
Flip the handlebars backward so that a right pull on the handle bar causes the bike to move left, and you’ll fall – I guarantee it (be sure to try it on grass). The brain is accustomed to a certain response from pulling the handle bar. Change the response, and the brain doesn’t yet know what to stabilize the rider. It takes repetitive practice and numerous falls for a new response pathway to form in the brain – one in which pulling the handle bar one way produces the opposite movement. Watch this YouTube video if you don’t believe me. Riding a bike with backward handlebars is the evidence that the brain has changed lanes. It firing on a new neural pathway.
Our natural default
The same goes for thought patterns. Thoughts and experiences form pathways in the brain, which become imprinted into brain matter as neurons form new linkages. What we choose to rest the mind on most frequently will become a dominant pathway in the brain, a pathway that the brain recognizes most easily, a pathway of least resistance.
Human brains by default are like Velcro for bad experiences and Teflon for good; we focus on negative experiences that have happened or can happen and give little thought to all the good that is alreadyin our life and can happen. That is why most of us, if left unchecked, will gravitate towards being critical and complaining rather than being uplifting and thankful. We will remember people who hurt us more easily than people who have blessed us. Compliments go in one ear and out the other; a beautiful sunrise is seen as a driving hazard; celebrating waking to another day is quickly redirected to completing a to-do list.
Getting off the default pathway by retraining the brain, requires repeatedly choosing, through focused intention, to rest the mind on positive experiences and absorbing them into our body. Brain retraining is not the same as positive thinking – it is so much more than that. It requires catching our thoughts from pathways of the past, then redirecting or replacing. Becoming conscious of unhelpful pathways that our brain frequents often will take time and effort, just as it takes time and effort, and perhaps bruises, to relearn how to ride a bike with backwards handlebars. It’s easier for neurons to fire down old, deeply engrained pathway; however, every person can choose to redirect their thoughts to form new pathways. Every brain can change. This is the science of neuroplasticity.
From being negative to being happy
Say you’re trying to become a happier person rather than a person who complains and is critical. You consciously choose to reframe your present and past experiences in a positive angle; you focus on the best and the beautiful about yourself, people, places, food, and circumstances and absorb the feeling that come; you recall happy experiences from the past; and you imagine ones you’ll have in the future. Whenever a critical thought or complaint enters your mind, you say, authoritatively, “stop, Stop, STOP,” and quickly redirect to something more constructive. By doing this, you are actually retraining the brain to fire down a different pathway than its default.
Consistency, focus, and repetition over time, amidst real life challenges that challenge happy responses, will engrain this message into the very neural fabric of your brain. The former critical and complaining default pathways will slowly degrade due to infrequent activation, and your new “happy” pathway will become dominant.
Brain retraining and physical health
Mindsets we choose make the brain operate in either a reactive mode or a responsive mode. Reactive modes are characterized by feeling angry, defeated, weak, overwhelmed, disappointed, sad, hurt, jealous, envious, ashamed, and inadequate. In this mode, the brain sends out a red-light alert to the body that it’s in distress. Accumulating reactive experiences adds to the body’s burden, such that inflammation increases, immunity weakens, and the cardiovascular system deteriorates.
On the other hand, the responsive mode is associated with feeling strong, calm, relaxed, grateful, enthusiastic, successful, appreciated, worth, and cherished. The brain sends a green-light message to the body that all is well. This mode relieves pain, reduces inflammation, and kills harmful, pathogenic bacteria.
Many people who exhausted all hopes in treatments have found healing by changing neural lanes with brain retraining. Personally, it dramatically helped with my past chemical sensitives, food intolerances, electrochemical hypersensitivity, and skin conditions. The more I read about neuroplasticity and the impact our thoughts have on the brain structuring process, the more I am convinced of its essential role in my Clear Skin Program and Detoxification Course. Brain retraining will be the first module in these services to set the foundation for the rest of the program.s Look for my Clear Skin Program this summer and the Detoxification Course later in 2019.
Check out Dynamic Neural Retraining System, a brain retraining program developed by Annie Hopper, if you want more information on brain retraining. There you’ll find testimonial and further resources. I also recommend reading Rick Hanson’s book, Hardwiring Happiness.
Best wishes with changing lanes,