Our brains are amazing! With the discovery of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, we know that our brains can change their neural structure and make new neurons. We now understand that we can "teach an old dog new tricks" and truly rewire our brains to be happier and healthier.
Here are a few tips on how to remodel your brain in order to enhance your life:
Identify what you think about most often.
Are you a worrier? Are you angry a lot? Paying attention to what we think about most enables us to identify where our brain wiring may be faulty and unhealthy. Believe it or not, your brain could be wired for anxiety, anger or any other negative thoughts, feelings or perceptions about yourself and the world. Our brains have nerve cells called neurons that have tiny branches that reach toward and connect with other neurons to form a neural network. Your brain has millions of these networks that form every thought and experience you have in your life. These interconnected networks form an intricate web of memories, thoughts, feelings and experiences. Thus, if you find yourself constantly worrying about bills, your relationship or even the future, then it may be that you wired your brain to be anxious and this is where you need to focus your rewiring.
Choose to change your perspective.
Once you recognize what you spend your time thinking about, then you need to choose whether you truly want to change. Many people have a hard time letting go of things that made them angry in the past and will perseverate on these misfortunes and negative feelings. Also entangled in our networks are feelings and emotions, which is how we are able to associate a certain type of feeling with an experience. For example, the word "love" is stored in a vast neural net that is based on an individual’s experience with that term. For some people, love may be connected to the memory of disappointment, pain and anger. Anger may be linked to hurt, which may be linked to a specific person, which then is connected back to love. Therefore, when a person thinks of "love," she may remember this heartbreak and may still be angry about it. She carries these feelings over to her next relationship even though that person wasn’t the one to have hurt her. For her to stop doing this, she must choose to do something to disrupt her continued negative perception of love.
Let the rewiring begin!
An important note about the brain is that we rewire it every time we learn something new or do something differently. Neurons that are used repeatedly grow stronger and the more they fire, the more they send out new branches looking for fresh and useful connections. These networks are also flexible, so new experiences can be added to old ones and old ones can be blended with new ones. As new and different networks fire, the brain will form new connections and this is how the brain rewires itself.
Begin by replacing your negative attitudes, thoughts and feelings with more positive ones. For example, if you struggle with anxiety over public speaking and you’re thinking, "I have to be perfect or I’m going to look like a fool," then you need to reframe this to a more constructive thought like, "I’m going to do the best I can and it’s okay if I’m not perfect because nobody’s perfect." This thought begins to take a small bite out of your anxiety. However, rewiring your brain is not just about positive thinking, it also means noticing the good things that happen to us on a daily basis and lingering in the moment of that positive experience. Think about how quickly you push away a compliment rather than letting yourself really feel good about it. Allow yourself to embrace and internalize those positive feelings, and this becomes a great way to set the foundation to your rewiring.
Next, visualize your desired intention. For example, imagine presenting your speech in a confident manner to your audience. One of the many surprising things about our brains is that our brains cannot tell the difference between something real or imagined, so when you mentally rehearse something, you strengthen your ability to create that in your life. It’s also important to recognize that your thoughts and feelings must align with your actions. In other words, it’s difficult to rewire your brain if you rehearse your speech but still complain about how much you can’t stand public speaking.
Finally, you need to practice, practice, practice. Consistently repeat your constructive thoughts and visualize your desired outcome. Change requires practicing a new habit because it follows the principle, "use it or lose it." As you consciously practice thinking, feeling, visualizing and acting in alignment with your desired intention, you will then stop the unconscious habit of recycling the past and activate your ability to rewire your brain to the present moment.