When I was in the fourth grade, my teachers whisked my classmates and I out from behind our Lisa Frank and Power Rangers notebooks to take us on a field trip to see the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail. Pioneers had traveled the route for decades with their wagons and animals and pots and pans and little pioneer children (who were probably fighting in the backseat). The repeated use of the same path cut a trail through the sandstone, which is still visible today.
***I am now going to make a giant leap and say that our brains are like the landscape of the American West.***
“Whenever we use our brain, we fire certain neuronal connections, and the more these connections get used, the stronger they become. We’re essentially wearing grooves into our brain- whichever mental processes are used on a consistent basis will strengthen.” -Olivia Fox Cabane
^^Wait a minute. Did that say, “WHENEVER we use our brain” ????
And aren’t we using our brains ALL THE TIME????
Yes. Unless you’re dead.
So… we’re making our neural connections stronger ALL THE TIME????
You’re a genius.
This seems important, but why????
I’ll tell you. Ahem,
Every time I believe a thought, perform a task, or say some words, that neural pathway gets a little bit stronger. (Like wagon ruts getting deeper.) And this is useful information because now, I have power. I get to decide which wagon ruts/neural connections become deeper.
- If I want to get better at double-unders (the nemesis of all jump-ropers), I need to practice them repeatedly, strengthening the neural connections that allow me to be coordinated enough to do the motion.
- If I want to memorize a difficult piano piece, I need to play it over and over, until the neural connections are solid enough for my hands to remember what to do.
^^“Yeah Kristen, but Time-Out. Those are physical tasks. People can’t change their core beliefs and personality!” Sorry, but science says that’s FALSE. Attitudes and behavior are no different than physical feats as far as the brain is concerned – they are still just neurons firing. So…
- If I want to become a more positive person, I can start consciously choosing positive thoughts, teaching my brain to automatically seek out the good.
- If I want to be kinder and more gracious towards others, I can begin by thinking kind and gracious thoughts repeatedly until those neural pathways become strong.
Many of us have some hella deep ruts to get out of. It may have started with a traumatic childhood, or an abusive relationship. Years and years of negativity, wearing deeper and deeper ruts. It is not easy, but also not impossible- neuroscience says you can re-wire your brain, IF you put in the time and effort. What you feed grows.
People who lie pathologically didn’t become that way overnight. It started with just one lie. Then another and another.
People who are generous didn’t just wake up one morning, full of good will. It began with one good deed. Then another and another.
Bitter people weren’t born that way. It began with one resentful thought that compounded over time.
Happy people aren’t just lucky. They have chosen to think happy, positive thoughts time and time again, even when life is difficult.
I’ll say it again: What. You. Feed. Grows. It may seem that destiny decides which of us are happy, sad, outgoing, shy, depressed, open-minded, angry, kind-hearted, rude, anxious, or joyful. But I don’t believe in giving destiny that kind of power. We get to decide where to steer our wagons.