No one needs to tell you how complicated and unruly our brains work, but sometimes understanding how they work can help us feel a little bit less like we are getting it all wrong. Whilst most of us probably think our brain is just a big wiring mess of thoughts, it also regulates our bodies, emotions, and behaviours. That last one is the one we often overlook. Behind your eyes is composed of billions of neurons that communicate with each other through electrical and chemical signals. This communication is what allows us to think, feel, and respond to the world around us. And makes us do what we want, even though we know we’ll pay for it tomorrow.
Many thoughts often stem from old, deeply ingrained patterns of thinking that have become wired into our brains over time. These patterns are difficult to break because they have become deeply ingrained in our neural networks. However, the good news is that our brains can change, through a process known as neuroplasticity. It is the same way we have learnt everything, from how to ride a bike, to where we put our passwords, to why you should avoid Trevor at a family BBQ. Neuroplasticity means that, with the right techniques, we can rewire our thoughts and create new patterns which could. If you are lucky enough, be more aligned with your values.
So how can you use neuroplasticity to change your thoughts and create new results in your life?
To change your thoughts and create new results in your life, it's important to understand the three key elements of neuroplasticity: attention, repetition, and reward.
Attention: When you focus your attention on a particular thought or idea, you are strengthening the neural connections associated with that thought. Most of us have a tendency to focus on something. And then we drift or get distracted and start giving ourselves a hard time that we can't focus, which is pretty counterproductive. Telling yourself you're not good at something is read by your brain as criticism, which equals danger, so it's less likely to try and stick at it. And ironically, more likely to try and distract you. In short, being an asshole to yourself because you're not concentrating makes your concentration worse.
Repetition: By repeating positive thoughts, you are strengthening the neural connections associated with those thoughts. But it does not just need to be positive thinking, it could be just a thought which feels a tiny bit less terrible than the one you were thinking. The more you repeat these thoughts, the stronger they become, and the easier it is to think of them automatically. Think about ways that you can repeat things which are fun for you. Seeing them cross stitch them, write them out like lines like Bart Simpson.
Reward: Our brains are wired to seek out pleasurable experiences. Are there any more useful thoughts than the one you're currently stuck on? And if you believe that instead, what would be the outcome? Looking for ways to make things a tiny bit less stuck will remind you why the repetition is worth it.
There are many situations in life where changing your thoughts and creating new results can be incredibly useful. For example:
If you struggle with self-doubt, you can use neuroplasticity to change your thoughts and create a more confident, self-assured mindset.
If you feel overwhelmed, you can use neuroplasticity to shift your focus to what is possible today rather than all the things you have not done yet.
If you struggle with a lack of confidence, you can use neuroplasticity to start training your brain to look for what you can do and what you have achieved.
So why is all this worth it? When we begin consciously using neuroplasticity to change our thoughts, we can create new results in your life. Is that sounds a bit fluffy to you? How about the idea of better communication? Improved relationships? Most successful career? A clearer sense of purpose? All of these things are possible because thoughts in our brains created them. The common thread is that we often think that all of these things are in the hands of other people and their actions, but the way that we think about it and the way that we approach it completely changes the outcomes for us.
What are the areas in your life where you feel like the patterns keep repeating or where all feels a bit like you? Disposal of someone else's weapons. Once you've identified these, it's worth trying to identify any thoughts behind this and if there is anything else which could be possible here for you.