“Nature has given us a brain that survives in a changing world by changing itself.”
– Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself
Every journey of transformation starts somewhere. There’s a voice in the back of your head, and it’s been there for years. Or you’re miserable, feeling stuck in old patterns, nothing going right.
Maybe something catastrophic happened to you, and you’re trying to make sense of it. Maybe you did something catastrophic to someone else.
Either way, we have two options when the idea of DEEP CHANGE comes up:
Assume that we just are the way we are, and it’s not possible or it’s too hard to change. Keep suffering.
Recognize that it is scientifically possible to change, learn how, and choose believe our efforts will create progress.
You get to choose, right now. And if you chose #2, read on.
The foundation of personal transformation is recognizing that it’s not just possible – it’s what we evolved to do. Our brains and bodies are literally built to change in response to our environment and behavior in it. Outdated beliefs say we’re set in stone at birth – you either win the genetic lottery or you don’t.
But we now know that our brains, bodies, and genes physically change based on our experiences, behavior, and thoughts.
Neural connectivity, the function of our brain that sees fire and physically reacts before even thinking “danger”, or detects sadness and immediately reaches for chocolate, are built through either repetition or intense emotion.
Think of these connections like paths, roads, and highways from A to B. The more used these pathways are, the bigger they get. And the less used they are, the more overgrown they become.
Changing our behavior is hard because our brains would really prefer to take the path of least resistance – the most obvious and clear path – so we’re always tempted to take the highways.
This is why it can be hard to heal from trauma, which rips a fault line in our brains. It’s why it can be hard to practice an instrument instead of watching tv, or to change negative thinking patterns. It’s even why bigotry and abusive patterns can be challenging to shift.
If we want to change our habits, ourselves, or our lives, we need to deliberately take those less used paths and hack and slash our way through over and over. It takes time and energy. It’s not easy. But we were built for this. Literally.
Neuroplasticity is the quality of the brain that allows us to change our neural pathways through our behavior, our experiences, and our thoughts. Every day, our brains either strengthen existing connections or create new ones in response to our experiences. This is why changing our inner narrative is so crucial to radical transformation.
What we focus on perpetuates. The beliefs we repeat over and over to ourselves become more and more true, because without intervention, they become completely automatic.
Everyone has a complex and wholly unique set of challenges that will make certain types of change easier or harder for them, and not everyone can rewire their brain at the same rate.
Believing in change is beneficial for everyone, but just because person A “just decided to” make a change, doesn’t mean person B can do so as easily. Expecting such is an example of mental health / ableist privilege, and can be very damaging.
If you’re embarking on a journey of change, it might be worth journaling on where you may still be believing that change isn’t possible for you or others. Ask how these beliefs help you feel safe.
Ask how they hold you back. Ask what might be possible for you if you could let go of these beliefs. Try to notice your limiting beliefs and challenge them as often as you can.