Every time you have a thought your brain changes! How can this be possible? This famous saying, from psychologist, Donald Hebb pretty much sums it up, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. With each thought, a synaptic connection is formed or strengthened. Our brain cells, “neurons” have microscopic space between them, called a “synapse”. One neuron releases a chemical or “neurotransmitter” into the synapse and the next neuron absorbs the neurotransmitter, this is how they talk to each other. This process is known as “neuronal firing”, creating a connection between the two neurons. When neurons communicate frequently, the synaptic connection between the two neurons strengthens, and allows communication to become more efficient. Messages traveling the same pathway in the brain over and over become faster and more efficient. That is why we practice things like hitting a golf ball or riding a bike, with enough repetition, the brain goes on automatic pilot.
Sounds good right?
Well the problem is over millions of years of evolution, human beings have been hardwired to focus on the negative to ensure survival, ward off disaster etc. Our brain has a negativity bias. Even in less stressful times, our mind tends to focus on a problem to solve, things that need to be done, or mistakes that we have made, rather than the positive moments that have occurred throughout the day. Un-balanced focus on problems contributes to negative emotions, and hazes over the positive experiences of the day.
Scientists say that the brain has a “negativity bias. Rick Hanson says “ our brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but teflon for positive ones”. The unfortunate and unfair result is that negative experiences get captured in emotional memory instead of positive ones, gradually darkening your outlook, mood, and sense of self.
Changing this negative thought pattern takes conscious effort and daily positive focus and gratitude. With enough repetition messages become automatic, through strengthening the brain’s neuronal circuitry we can strengthen the positive that is involved in happiness and wellbeing.
Well the good news is our brains can change and we can use self-directed brain change to make this happen! To makes this happen and make our brains velcro for the good or positive daily stuff in life, here are 4 simple steps to help this process.
- Let positive facts become positive experiences, if you do something that you are proud of, or have accomplished something, or if someone is nice to you, or gives you a compliment, allow yourself to feel good about it.
- Savor the positive experience for 20-30 seconds to let it soak in. Articulate the moment in your mind, take in the visual, and form a mental snapshot. Also notice any sounds, smells or physical or mental reactions you have, such as smiling, a sense of calm, how your body feels and so forth. Take the time to let it fill your body, and become as strong as possible.
- Intend and feel the positive experience is soaking into you. This positive experience is becoming a part of you!
- Write it down! If you are a journal writer you can write down your positive experiences that you noticed throughout the day and remember how you felt. Express what you are grateful for.
Try to take in the “good” several times a day. A single time won’t make much difference, but over time, you will be weaving resources into the fabric of your brain and yourself. A brain that imprints positive emotions becomes more resilient and can bounce back more quickly from negative experiences and disappointments. Also, focusing on positive emotions lowers the body’s stress hormones, which lessens the negative physiological effects of stress. How you use your mind sculpts your brain, kind of like building muscles in the body. If you have a lot of neurons firing together for positive experiences, that will build new neural structures. The more you take in the “good”, the more your brain will change for the better and the more happiness and joy you will feel in your life!
Take 20-30 seconds right now to remember a good thought or experience from today and begin reinforcing your positive neural pathways. Why not give it a try!