Brains. The fleshy lumps of pink matter comically depicted in cartoons, are in fact made up of highly complex circuits, known as neural pathways. Neural pathways are the superhighways of nerve cells that transmit messages (1). The more times electrical messages journey down the same beaten tracks, the more solid and shaped into our existence they become. In the context of negative habits, they are the bridleways to our self-sabotaging impulses. Thankfully neuroplasticity has a solution to this.
enjoys suffering - negative habits only survive when we fall victim to the same detrimental neural pathways: smoking cigarettes, devouring specific comfort foods, reacting to emotional triggers and getting caught up in the web of negative thought. But what if we could create a detour? Or journey down a completely new route? What if we could retrain our brain to become the half full cup? Because of neuroplasticity, the brains soft and interchangeable potentials, anything is possible.
Mostly, our brains are shaped by the way we respond to the world around us. So what if we could change the way we responded to the world? Last year an eye-opening study, Adult-Neurons Modify Excitatory Synaptic Transmission to Existing Neurons
reported how newborn neurons weave themselves into the new and improved neural tapestry of our brains. This study confirmed that through neuroplasticity, less-fit dated neural pathways faded into oblivion and died off as the young newborn neural pathways took over existing neural circuits, by making more robust synaptic connections
. So then it’s apparent that our brain-recovery mission is to create newborn self-neural pathways that are beneficial to our being.
Become the alchemist of your own mind and take your brain chemistry into your own hands. Here’s some powerful brain training ways to create new neural pathways, for healthier habits and happier states of mind:
Identify Triggers – Be consciously aware of your actions and become the watcher of your triggers. Every time we engage in an impulsive, habitual behavior, anticipatory dopamine is released into the brain. Dopamine has an important role in the brain as a neurotransmitter – it is responsible for transmitting signals in between the nerve cells (neurons)(3). By identifying our triggers and catching them out, we can detract neurons from firing down unwanted behavioral pathways.
Pay Attention –
Engage your prefrontal cortex by actively paying attention to your surroundings and how you respond to them. When we stop paying attention due to distraction or stress, our brains revert back to old patterns. Every time we perform the new behavior or override an urge, we make the old habit weaker in our brains.
Increase Serotonin –
Our brains thrive on serotonin to function at an optimal level, especially the pre-frontal cortex. In order for neuroplasticity to take place, our brains require fuel and willpower to re-fire our neurons up the beneficial pathways. Ways to increase serotonin include enough sleep, exercise, meditation and gratitude.
Make a Plan –
Manifest what you are trying to change and make it official. Create affirmations to anchor these new desired behaviors and reinforce them.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. –
The power of repetition is your friend. It has been estimated that it takes “10,000 repetitions to master a skill and develop the associated neural pathway” (4)
and 3-6 months for a new behaviour to become a new habit.
Build Resilience to Fight The Brain Bias -
The brain is like Velcro to negative experiences. In his book, Hardwiring Happiness,
neuropsychologist Dr Rick Hanson explains that our brains are wired to favour the negative. For example, if we attend a family dinner party and, overall, have a great time, however one family member makes a comment that ruffles our feathers, we will associate our whole experience with the later negative encounter. To combat this brain bias and maintain the positive, Hanson advices to focus on the good for 10-20 seconds, to store it in our long-term memory.
Take Control -
Realise that it’s all in your own hands and keep working on it! You've got this.