September 2012 - How To Break Out of Your Rut…& Create Positive Change
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Have you ever felt like you’re in a rut and can’t change? You’re not alone. There are many reasons you may feel this way, and one big reason has to do with Neural Pathways in your brain. These pathways are like ruts in a dirt road – once you get in one, it can seem difficult to break out. The good news is, you can get out of your rut, stop putting your life on hold and live the life you truly desire.
Neurons are cells that make up the core of the nervous system, most notably the brain. Clusters of neurons can work together to create a memory, belief or a learned behavior. When neurons are connected in this way, they are referred to as a neural pathway.
Hebb’s Law states that neurons that fire together, wire together. This is the basis of neuroplasticity – our ability to rewire our brains, behaviors, moods and thoughts. This happens when our brains are signaled to pay attention, like when we’re learning something new. In this learning environment the brain releases chemicals called dopamine and acetylcholine which stamp the new experience into a dedicated neural path and encode it for a richer memory. In these moments we are wiring a new skill, behavior or reaction pattern into the memory banks of our brains. As we practice or reinforce this new behavior by repetition, it becomes automatic and mostly unconscious, like a habit. Many of these skills and behaviors are useful – for example, driving a car – and help us to conduct our lives more efficiently and comfortably.
However, the way your brain is wired may also work against you. For example, it’s proven that we can wire a neutral event to a fearful response. For example, say a dog happens to bark just when you’re getting some bad news. Later, you cringe at a dog bark, even if no bad news follows. The auditory cortex delivers the “dog bark” message at the same time as the “bad news” message enters the frontal cortex. Both hit the amygdala (a part of the brain that processes memory and emotions) at the same time and become linked. Neurons that fire together, wire together – it’s Hebb’s Law.
Suppose you’re trying to lose weight. You might really want to lose weight and feel consciously determined to do so. However, your brain with all its neuro-connections remembers that when you were a child and felt unhappy, your grandmother would always come to the rescue with a warm homemade chocolate chip cookie. Eating the cookie, you immediately felt better. Later, whenever you felt bad and reached for a cookie, you reinforced that neuro-connection, creating a neural pathway that associates eating sweets with feeling better. This illustrates how habits and behaviors are formed and entrenched. You may have consciously forgotten how that connection was formed, but it now controls your automatic response in this kind of emotional situation. While this neural pathway remains active in your brain, you might find it difficult to lose weight.
How much of your life is cross-wired with misappropriated emotional charge? You have the ability to rewire that inner circuitry so that it works for you.
While you can’t grow new brain cells, you can increase the number of neuro-connections or synapses between brain cells. Synapses connect and allow communication between brain cells, just like a cell phone network that allows people to relay information to each other. As you can imagine, there are many intricate processes involved in the transfer of information between brain cells. The way you learn or change any behavior is to create new connections in various parts of your brain. This can be accomplished on your own by reading, physical exercise, getting into a creative zone such as playing an instrument, or by life experiences that shape us for the future. The secret is, by doing a whole new behavior over and over again, you are establishing new ways of behaving that become automatic.
One of the best ways to create new neural connections and shape your own behavior is through hypnosis.
Hypnosis can help you anchor in a whole new way of responding to a specific situation by creating new neural pathways. This is a powerful approach to positive change. Let me explain what I mean by “anchor”. Let’s say you have a fear of public speaking. (By the way, this is one of the most common fears people typically have.) The roots of it may go back to grade school when you first got up in front of the class and became embarrassed because somebody laughed. You have probably consciously forgotten that unhappy memory, but from that point forward every time you had to speak in front of a group that old fear came back again. Over time you developed a strong neural pathway in your brain that tells you public speaking is frightening; you might even find yourself trying to avoid such situations altogether. Anchoring is a way of suggesting to the unconscious mind (where habitual behaviors are formed and stored) a new positive behavior pattern or memory of how you want to respond in the future. For example, perhaps you have a memory of a time when you gave a public talk and it went great. Or perhaps you can remember how easy it is to just talk to your best friend. During hypnosis, we can suggest to your unconscious mind that every time you give a talk, you will feel just like the time you delivered that great presentation. If you don’t have a positive memory like that, we can suggest that every time you give a talk in the future you will feel as relaxed and comfortable as you do while having a great conversation with your best friend. By having you momentarily re-experience a positive memory that feels really good to you, we are anchoring or reinforcing to your unconscious mind that you will respond in this new positive way. We are actually building a whole new neural pathway of behavior.
Just for fun, consider: How much more versatile and healthy might your brain and behavior be if you learned something new each day, solved a puzzle, or drove a new route to work?
To sum things up, neural pathways control actions we do without thinking. This is how habits are formed. For the most part, that’s good. It makes many of our everyday repetitive tasks easier. Neural pathways are like little computer programs that enable us to do many of the routine things we do each day with little effort. For instance, we don’t have to think in order to be able to walk. We drive our cars with very little conscious attention to each step in the process. Many of the neural pathways in our brain are essential for our existence and survival – while others, as we’ve talked about above, don’t necessarily serve us well.
What habits or behaviors would you like to change? You can begin today!
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