This year, we’ve been hearing a lot about neural pathways. The opportunity one has each day to form healthy tracks. It’s a beautiful thing, I believe, that science can easily align with Christianity. I say this from my own stance of Christian belief and the life I choose to walk out. One of the greatest battlefields we have in American culture is, our mind. There was a time in my life that I was so hyperaware of the negative thoughts or lies I was believing, that I had to ask the Lord for help; that I may take every thought captive and replace it with His truth. The Lord desires a relationship with us and in leaning on Him to help take our thoughts captive and replace with truth builds exactly that. (shout out to Holy Spirit.) I encourage you to consider taking on the battlefield of the mind this year- I encourage you to do it with the help of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Let’s go!
The below was written by, Alex Anderson. Anderson has a passion for mental health and the study therein. Her writing is a scientific view on what can be done when we take our thoughts captive. We are thankful for her time and for who she is as a person. We are confident she is touching lives everywhere; welcome our guest writer, Alex Anderson.
Re-Wire Your Brain in 2020
You can think of your brain as a complex computer system that has a great memory. Your thought patterns that are used are often prioritized over thought patterns unused or used very little. Your repetitive thoughts form neural pathways in the brain that are similar to tire tracks on an old dirt road that have been formed through repetition. As such, the more often you think something, the more likely it is that your brain will automatically or quickly go there. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts often and need a guide on how to re-wire, consider this a good starting point.
Whether you are an adult, a parent, or a child, the 4 Rs to re-wire the brain are useful to begin forming new neural pathways and to leaving old ones behind. Remember, it is never too late to re-wire your brain!
The 4 Rs to Re-wire the Brain:
- Relabel: The first step in replacing negative thought patterns with new and healthy thought patterns is to relabel your thoughts. It is important to be cognizant of your thoughts. Oftentimes thoughts that run through your brain are simply untrue. If you are able to label your thoughts as “untrue”, this is a great first step. For example, I might think, “I am not good enough.” I take notice of the thought and do not allow it to consume me; I simply recall it and respond by actively thinking, “That is an irrational thought.” or “I have no evidence that thought is true”. It is important to take a non-judgement stance when relabeling thoughts.
- Reattribute: After you identify some of your thoughts as irrational, I encourage you to reattribute those thoughts. It is common to want to judge our repetitive irrational or untrue thoughts that are affecting our lives. Instead of judgement, take an observation stance. It is helpful to remind yourself that your thoughts are not who you are as a person. Thoughts are simply thoughts. For instance, you may hear a person suffering from anxiety say, “My anxiety will never go away. It’s just who I am.” This is untrue. Oftentimes, it can feel like your mental state is your temperament or your personality when in actuality it is a stuck brain pattern. By reattributing irrational thoughts as an unhealthy brain pattern, instead of a personality trait, the neural pathway will be much easier to adapt.
During reattribution, it is helpful to remember that most of our faulty thought patterns are not our fault but oftentimes, the result of trauma. Trauma is defined as “a deeply disturbing or distressing experience.” The more trauma you have been through, the more likely your brain is going to have unhealthy thought patterns. Not only that, trauma often causes individuals to be in a prolonged state of “fight or flight” causing the logical part of the brain to shut off. Reattributing irrational thoughts paves the way for lasting change.
Awareness can be overwhelming and you may feel exposed. Self-compassion is key in the reattribution of thoughts and is the pathway to healing. To ensure that you are treating yourself with the love and kindness, make a list of self-care rituals you can lean on when feeling sad, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed. This list is meant to be unique and special to you. I recommend taking the time to list things that bring you joy and peace. This list doesn’t have to be lengthy or fancy. Some of my favorite self-care tools are simple such as breathing and looking at pictures of my dog. Keep it simple and go easy on yourself.
- Restructure: After relabeling and reattributing irrational thoughts, it’s time to restructure! This is an action step and huge changes do occur. In this step, your irrational thoughts are actually going to be replaced with more desirable ones. Be aware this will take you out of your comfort zone and perseverance is key. During this stage of restructuring the brain, a life coach or therapist is invaluable. Changing thought patterns is tedious and hard; a third-party guiding you, encouraging you, and motivating you is GOLD! You are going to be working against your old brain patterns, which may feel unnatural, uncomfortable, and may exacerbate you at times.
Changing old brain patterns can be hard and terrifying but not impossible. Some tips to get started: write down all patterns or beliefs that you want to shed, then write down specific action steps you can take to do so.
- Re-value: The last “R” in rewiring the brain involves re-valuing your once tightly held beliefs. During this step, your old thought patterns do not hold weight as they once did. You may notice that as you build new neural pathways, your old thought patterns don’t hurt quite as deep and do not feel quite as intense. For example, you used to spiral into depression after telling yourself “I am so ugly” but now when this thought comes, you’re able to identify it as false. Replacing it with, “I am beautiful and unique.” This is great news and it is important to give yourself credit for your progress!
Although the 4 Rs are helpful in beginning your process of re-wiring your brain and living your ideal life, this is not a one-size-fits-all method. Only you are truly able to develop a plan that is right for you.
This article is useful to educate you on how the brain works and to give you a sense of hope that nothing is irreversible. Remember, a therapist is a great partner to begin your journey to self-discovery and help you ditch the old brain patterns that no longer serve you. It’s never too early or too late to start living the life you have always wanted. There is no brain pattern that is too deep to re-wire. You can always form new neural pathways that fit your lifestyle and personality in an authentic way. Our thoughts are not who we are and sometimes we just need a little push to see that. Will you take the first step today?