Rewiring Your Brain

In Christine Hassler’s book Expectation Hangover, the author explains:

Repetitive thoughts form what are called neural nets in our brain, which are clusters of chemically connected or functionally associated neurons. What that means is that if you think the same thought or type of thought over and over, it forms an actual physical cluster of neurons in your brain. Over time these neural nets create “grooves” in your brain that your thoughts gravitate toward. For instance, if you repeatedly think, “I’m not good enough,” you create a neural net around that limiting pattern of thought. Once the neural net is formed, it becomes habitual to think in the direction of “I’m not good enough.” Thus you will tend to see things that occur in your life through the lens of “I’m not good enough.

This idea of neural nets fascinated me, and it also offered me great comfort. If the brain can be trained to think negative thoughts, that means it can also be trained to do the opposite.

In fact, the author went on to make this very point, revealing a technique called self-directed neuroplasticity. There are a few ways you can rewire the brain, and it starts by imagining your runaway thoughts as a wild horse. It’s much easier to control this horse when you’re riding it and maneuvering the reins. One way of getting the horse/your thoughts under control is by saying “whoa” to yourself whenever you feel your mind drifting into territory you don’t want it go. This helps you bring yourself back to the present moment. Another similar technique is carrying a childhood picture of yourself in your wallet or on your phone. Anytime you feel negative thoughts starting to rise up, pull up that picture and imagine saying those negative things to the little boy or girl staring back at you. It’s much harder to be mean to sweet baby you with those big eyes and chubby cheeks, isn’t it?

It’s important to rein in these harmful ideas, because what you think about yourself sets the course for your life. I spent many years thinking I wasn’t good enough and dealing with a total lack of self-confidence. I thought I was lucky to receive any attention from men, so I chose people who were unavailable—men who had just gotten out of serious relationships or who lived all the way across the country. When they rejected me, it only served to validate my beliefs. Now that I’ve learned to love myself more and reject these ideas, I added a note to my dating profile making it clear that I’m not looking up for hookups or casual dating but to connect with someone in a meaningful way in the hopes of it leading to a long-term relationship. I plan on asking dates about their intentions early on, communicating my wants and needs often, and not investing in people before they invest in me. I imagine my dating experience will be much different this time around.

After learning about this bit of neuroscience, I’m not as surprised to find myself constantly trapped in negative thought cycles. I always thought there wasn’t much harm in lingering in these thoughts, but now I know better. Now I’m determined to rewire my brain so positive thinking becomes more natural to me.

I know my life isn’t a movie or anything, but this morning I woke up to gloomy, downcast weather. Rather than letting it get me down, I tried thinking about how thankful I was to be alive, to exist in this world, to have this rainy weather so I could appreciate the coziness of my apartment. And I kid you not, just like that the sky cleared up.

Okay, it wasn’t an instant thing or anything but it was supposed to rain all day, and instead the sun came out and shone brighter than it had in weeks. I don’t usually believe in signs, but in the interest of being a more positive thinker, I’m interpreting this one as a sign that I’m headed in the right direction.

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