Brain Fuel: How to Begin Rewiring Your Brain
The brain is complex. It can trick us into believing thoughts that are not true about ourselves and the world around us. Yet, it can also protect us from things we are not yet able to understand or experience.
Our brain learn things that we are not even consciously aware of. Often times the ways in which we see the world and interact with it has been shaped by various experiences. Some of which we fully understand and are aware of, such as being embarrassed to speak in large public settings because of past humiliation in such
a setting. Whereas, other experiences slipped past our awareness and into our daily lives. For example, if growing up you had a parent(s) who was emotionally or physically unavailable you might have learned that you can't rely on others, people will always let you down or that you have to offer something of value for others to appreciate you. Likely, you did not choose these messages, but somehow they became part of how you view yourself, your relationships and the world at large. Basically, our brain is made up of all the intentional and unintentional, conscious and unconscious information that we feed it.
When we understand this, we can begin to make intentional, conscious decisions about what information we will fuel our brain with today. Here are some ways to begin fueling your brain in ways that can lead to a more positive outlook on life, relationships and most importantly yourself:
1) Practice Gratitude
When we are aware of the things in our world that we have to be grateful for then we are shifting our attention and energy. It feels good to give thanks for the things in our world that feel good or are going well. Disclaimer, these do not have to be big. We all have crumby days where it feels like nothing is going right, events are painful, and we are emotionally exhausted. On these days, gratitude can be found in your resilience to make it through the day, the sun shining, having a home to settle into, a loved one to greet you, or just the strength to get out of bed that day and give it a fighting shot. Practicing gratitude means paying attention to the big moments as well as the small, mundane ones. There are tons of wonderful gratitude journal out there to help you get started. If journaling isn't your thing, then begin identifying three things each day that you have to be grateful for. On more challenging days, shoot for five. You can write them down, share them out loud or make a mental note to yourself. I'll start, I am grateful for my loving family and pets, getting to work with such brave and resilient people and the lack of snow on the ground -- no snow birds over here!
2) Challenge the Inner Critic
We all have a voice in the back of our head who says mean and nasty things, usually about ourselves. This inner critic does not usually benefit us, but yet we let them stay rent free in our minds. Evict them now! Do this by reality testing the thought. Is there any hard proof that this thought is true? You can also challenge your inner critic by asking yourself if you would say these things about a loved one or even a stranger. For vast majority of us, the ways we judge and speak to ourselves we'd NEVER do to another. We are our harshest critic. So ask yourself, would I say this to my best friend/coworker/family member? Most likely, the answer will be no. If you wouldn't judge or communicate like that with another then don't do it to yourself.
3) Celebrate Successes and Positives
Somewhere along the way our brains got wired to look out for things that are going wrong, likely as a way to protect ourselves. However, this is not always helpful because in the process we overlook the things that are going right. In those rare instances where we do recognize the positives or successes we don't give them the time they deserve. Take a second and think back, I would bet there have been times where you already unintentionally practiced gratitude or challenging your inner critic. Did you take time to celebrate this? Likely, no. We give so much weight to the negatives that we tend to minimize the positives or feel as though celebrating them is not worthy of our time, but they totally are! I challenge you to recognize and celebrate your successes and those positive moments no matter how small. A flower blooms with care and nurturance, not by being stomped on.
4) Be Mindful and Intentional
No matter which of the three above you try -- though I would encourage you to try them all -- none of them will be as effective if we aren't intentional and mindful of our actions. Be present with yourself in those moments. Allow yourself space to just be. Then be intentional with the gratitude you give, the way you speak to yourself and how you celebrate your positives. When we are mindful and intentional we are better able to fuel our mind and relish in all the positive side effects of doing so. The best part though is that the more we practice being mindful and intentional the stronger the positive side effects become. There are lots of great apps, such as Breathe and Calm, as well as YouTube videos to get you started. Give some a try and see if any resinate with you. When we practice mindfulness and intentionality regularly we can then begin applying it to our daily life. If we practice it enough, it becomes habit.
5) Seek Professional Help
Our minds are powerful! Sometimes so powerful that it feels overwhelming to even begin conquering. We've all been there. There are times where life has thrown too much at you or the wiring in our brain is too complex to begin to rewire on our own. In these situations, seeking help from a professional can be just what we need
to create space and gather tools to begin implementing these and other techniques. Additionally, seeking a mental health professional, whether that be a psychiatrist or mental health counselor, can assist us in getting personalized tools, medications and techniques so we can master our minds successfully and effectively. Don't be afraid to ask for help and when you do celebrate the strength it took to do so.
The brain is complex, but truly amazing! Rewiring our brains helps us be better able to manage what life throws our way. With the right tools, we can begin to train our brain to help us live the life, create the relationships and achieve the goals we desire. Rewiring our brain is like weight lifting though. It's challenging at first, but with time, patience, the right help and consistent practice it gets easier. Don't forget that the weights don't get lighter, you get stronger -- do I hear a cause for celebration on the horizon?! Hang in there, practice intentionally and often and seek help when needed. Even when it doesn't feel like it, you are capable of achieving it all!
So M.A.D. friends, what are you feeding your brain?