Ralph Waldo Emerson — ”You are what you think all day long.”
Our brains are amazing in so many ways, and the quality of neuroplasticity is astounding. For anyone that would take advantage of this feature, it can be completely life-changing. Simply put, neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to be altered and actively shaped over time. At some point or another, each of us has probably felt stuck in our ways — detrimental habits, bad memories, old patterns of thought, and so on. We feel stuck because of the way our inner voice speaks to us, creating default mental pathways we use to process a situation or a feeling. While it can certainly help us at times (and hold us back at others), it’s important to know that we have control! Our initial thoughts about a situation create the frame for almost everything that comes after, and that’s why we want to leverage this fascinating feature of our brain to break certain thought patterns and replace them with new ones.
With every repeated thought or action, you reinforce neural pathways in the brain, and the more you “travel” the same pathways, the stronger they become. The same is true in reverse. If you progressively eliminate or reduce unwanted thoughts or actions, those pathways become weaker, allowing you to consciously bring about personal change. It’s helpful to think of it like this: your set of beliefs govern your thoughts, which regulate your choices, drive behaviors, and determine your experience. Perhaps most importantly, the experience generates an accompanying feeling or emotion. When it comes to harnessing your thoughts to create change, it’s best to start at the beginning. Your first step? Identify any self-limiting beliefs.
In this context, a “belief” refers to anything you accept to be unequivocally true. Ask yourself if you have any “truths” that may be holding you back? If you don’t know, ask a trusted friend or family member. Believe me, they will know. Once you discover something you want to change, it’s a matter of retraining your brain. You can reclaim your autonomy when you challenge your thoughts, stimulate new patterns, and open up other choices. You’ll also have access to a broader spectrum of behaviors, feelings, and experiences.
Creating new pathways isn’t an overnight process, and it doesn’t work by flipping a switch in your brain. If you’re dealing with beliefs and thought patterns that have stuck with you for years or that exist as a result of traumatic events, this process can actually be very difficult, and I recommend seeing a therapist or licensed counselor. However, it’s important to know that you can observe unwanted thoughts and respond to them differently, thus creating new pathways and weakening the objectionable neural pathways. Then, each time you encounter a situation that triggers your belief, you can choose the new pathway. The more you travel by it, the stronger it will get. That’s the power of our brain’s neuroplasticity at work.
Anyone who is motivated enough can take advantage of our seemingly miraculous brain function. Reject the idea that people can’t change. Regardless of whether you’re trying to mend a rocky relationship, accomplish something you’ve always wanted, practice self-compassion, or break down a pesky mental roadblock, you can use targeted thinking in relation to your beliefs, choices, behaviors, experiences, and feelings, all of which — at the end of the day — you have control over. Trust me, it will become easier — more natural — and there will come a time when you realize you’ve created a real change for yourself.