True, the mystery and complexity of the mind and brain may remain an ever present reality. Thanks in large part to advanced methods of studying the brain, however, recent findings in neuroscience have come a long way to unravel numerous puzzles.
Safe to say, many operations of the brain and body are governed by scientific laws as real as the Law of Gravity. Unquestionably, there is less mystery.
One of the laws discovered by recent findings is the ability of the brain to restructure and heal itself throughout life. This discovery alone tossed out centuries of scientific creeds, which previously held that we cannot do much about the damage caused by trauma and certain set patterns such as those labeled mental or behavioral “disorders.”
Known as neuroplasticity, findings show you have an innate ability to restructure the gray matter of your brain, literally speaking, with your mind and conscious-mind action. When you change what you think, say or do in response to an event or situation, you change inner emotional states. As emotions are molecules that transmit the “what” to fire and wire” messages, whenever your felt experience of an event changes, accordingly, this physically restructures the gray matter of your brain.
More and more, psychological treatment is less guesswork and mystery, and more application of proven science.
Even deeply entrenched behavior problems, such as addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been shown to respond to treatment that follows proven methods of rewiring the brain by altering current thought-response patterns. For OCD, for example, neuroscientist Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz has developed four steps in a ‘response prevention” cognitive-biobehavioral approach.
It makes sense. Most emotional issues have to do with rigid patterns of thinking associated with the body’s fear response.
What follows are four steps to rewire your brain to think and feel a different way, which can be applied to enhance your behavior or thought patterns overall. With more serious issues, seek the support of a professional.
1. See your automatic response patterns as learned brain-strategies.
The first step is to realize that toxic behaviors and patterns do not mean you are weak, inferior or defective as a human being. As a culture, it is unfortunate that most major institutions, i.e., family, school, church, even our medical and mental health industries, are overly problem-focused, judging those with problems as bad, weak, defective, and the like. Problems are not the problem, your brain is designed to solve them. You were born with a brain that not only loves to resolve challenges, it simply cannot be healthy and vibrant without them!
See problem behaviors instead for what they are: learned strategies that your brain adapted because they ‘worked’ to protect you. You may not remember because this involves subconscious processes. You’ve been practicing many of these patterns from the time you were a child, thus, they can seem like they are ‘you’ – when in truth they are learned patterns that can be un-learned.
It’s a mistake to think that you are your thoughts, your emotions or your actions. You always have the option, once you realize this, to choose the thoughts, emotions, actions you want to express. Truth be told, all automatic thought-, emotion- or action-patterns that cause toxicity in your relationships and problems in your life are based on misguided understandings, mostly subconscious, between your mind and body. It is these toxic or limiting neural patterns that jam up the communication network of your mind and brain with unnecessary levels of fear.
If you have low tolerance for discomfort, or get bored easily, it’s time to take back what you lost somewhere along the way, that is, your innate passion to learn, to grow, to stretch, to discover, to be curious, to create, all of which you had naturally as a child! You need a new worldview that allows you to recapture your zest for life and healthy adventure, and to stretch out of old comfort zones. In this way, when thoughts surface that hold you back, such as “I can’t do that, that’s just not me,” you can bring yourself to speak truth, to say, “I am capable of stretching and doing whatever I put my mind and heart into realizing!!”
2. Re-frame a behavior as a problem located outside of who you are as a person.
The second step is to reframe a certain thought or behavior pattern so you can clearly see what is true and what is not true. This allows you to step back and separate yourself (or another), as a human being, from the behavior. When you do, you have a clearer picture of what is in your hands to change, and what is not.
Use a descriptive word that resonates with you, and grabs your attention. For example, call an unwanted thought, such as “I’m inadequate” or “there’s no point, nothing works,” a ‘big lie,’ a ‘misguided belief’ or a ‘false illusion.’ Refer to a shopping addiction as “a selfish money-grabbing thief’ or an addictive food “a high-cost cheap-thrill.’ Instead of telling yourself “I have to have a drink” you train yourself to say, “I’m having a compulsive urge to drink, and it’s trying to trick me into thinking ‘just one drink can’t hurt’ when I know that’s lie.”
This may sound too easy to be true. Rest assured, it’s anything but easy.
To consciously shift your focus on something opposite from what your brain has been automatically trained to do to ensure your survival will require you to come at this with determined force, to understand and accept that this will be quite a challenge, incredibly so. It’s about taking the reins as captain of your mind and emotional states, to develop your innate capacity by consciously navigating your responses to life.
3. Set clear life vision to refocus your energies on what you consciously prioritize and most value.
To the extent you have a clear vision of your life and what you most value, your body and mind subconscious galvanizes, and sharply focuses, your emotional energy to create thoughts, ideas, and actions that alight with your highest yearning.
If you are like many, you mostly have vague ideas of what you want in the long and short term, what you believe deep inside about yourself and life, and what is most important to you, what you value. The reason you may not have what you want, however, may be that you do not have a clear idea, a sharp vision, and specific and clearly stated goals. An articulated vision is a key trait of those who succeed in any endeavor. It is critical information to consciously feed your subconscious mind.
It’s not an option. It’s how your brain is designed to work. You need a clear vision of what you really want, who you want to be, what you’re willing to do and not do, clear enough so you can see it, preferably involving most or all of your senses, that is, you picture it, taste it, smell it, hear it, and feel it-as if it were already a present reality.
When your vision is a passion, the part of your mind that is in control of forming and breaking habits, the subconscious, is more quickly persuaded to let go of and replace the patterns that have been causing problems. Most protective survival-strategies, for example, are associated with a “low-energy” (fear-based) strivings, such as seeking “to prove your worth to others” or “to make sure no one gets upset or angry at you,” which you must necessarily replace. Fear-based patterns keep the subconscious mind on alert for certain cues, which it has learned to misinterpret as threats to your survival. To influence change, you must gain the cooperation of your subconscious mind. You need a vision to energize your mind and body and focus the direction of change. You can achieve what you want, more easily and effortlessly, when your conscious and subconscious mind work together toward common goals.
4. Take action to express your commitment to this new priority or value.
The fourth step is where the toughest work is, because it’s the actual changing of behavior. You have to perform another behavior instead of the old one. Once you recognize the problem for what it is and why it’s re-occurring, you now have to replace the old behavior by giving your brain new things to do. This is where the change in brain chemistry occurs, where you are creating new neural patterns, with your new mindset. By refusing to be misled by the old messages, by understanding they aren’t what they tell you they are, your subconscious is more willing to adapt change, and allow conscious you to be in charge of your brain (when you get triggered).
Action seals the deal. It says that the first three steps really matter to you. Your subconscious mind follows your lead the more you persuade it that you can handle those scary feelings of inadequacy or rejection, loss of control or abandonment, and thus stops treating you like a baby that has to be rescued with old strategies recorded in your early survival love map.
When you consistently take action, going opposite the emotional response you used to respond with to a triggering situation, you are consciously self-directing changes in your brain. These changes will make it increasingly easier for you to train yourself to respond, for example, with relative calm and confidence to a situation that is normally triggering for you. The more you practice a behavior, the more likely your subconscious mind will integrate it as a learned pattern that becomes more and more automatic.
Eventually, old thought patterns and intense emotional responses fade in intensity, and your brain is not highjacked by the body’s ‘fight, flee or freeze’ response, thus, your brain’s higher reflective thinking operates to allow you to make conscious choices. You’ve developed the capacity to accordingly maintain an optimal emotional state of mind and body. Your subconscious mind can perform its regular amazing functions, instead of acting like a dictator that usurps all the energies of your body thinking it needs to prepare for ‘enemy’ attack.
Ready to take the helm as captain?
Extensive studies say that, when you determinately decide to change your mind, you cause physical changes to your brain. Providing the change is in a positive direction, this is fantastic news.
This can involve a change in behavior to eliminate a compulsive pattern, take your life back from an addiction, or heal your relationship with money or food, a person you love or a difficult boss or colleague. Change and healing are about reshaping your mindset in a particular area of your life. You can make this a conscious process, where shifts in your thoughts, attitude and beliefs rewire current problematic emotional circuits.
It has been scientifically shown that the brain is structurally altered by changes in your behavior patterns. You can conquer toxic thinking patterns and old limiting beliefs by conscious shifts in your views, having a new vision, reframing problems. Safe to say, you get to consciously choose what you will create or change.