Whatever is happening in your life right now, a significant factor in how you’re responding will be your unique brain and how your past experiences have ‘wired’ your brain with your triggers, reactions, coping mechanisms, and resilience.
As I have mentioned in Blogs before this, the part of the brain often referred to as the Executive Brain, that top-heavy front part called the Pre Frontal Cortex, defines us as humans. It is gradually developed from birth up to the age of about 24, and is shaped to a great degree based on both our experiences and our responses to them, and to the 'programming' we receive. This part of the brain gives us a multitude of abilities, including contributing significantly to our resilience and our abilities to;
Stay calm under pressure and manage fear
Manage our impulses
Motivate ourselves – be able to generate positive emotions under stress and stay on course, even with setbacks
Adapt and be flexible – be able to roll with the punches
Develop Emotional intelligence – to understand and self-regulate our emotions in order to gain the best, most insightful perspective
Learn and develop intellect – to be curious and pursue knowledge, integrating information and memory
Have ‘big-picture’ insight –to be aware of the present, look backward at the past, and have a vision of the future, simultaneously (mental time-travel)
Feel empathy – be able to step into someone else’s shoes and see their viewpoint without your own agenda getting in the way
Become attuned to other people – ultimately developing mutual trust
Act according to values and ethics – imagining and in-acting the greater good, above and beyond our own personal satisfaction
Trust instinct and intuition – be able to process gut feeling and heart-felt sense and use in an appropriate way to inform decisions
Of course we’re not necessarily automatically good at any of these – for most of us it takes a bit of effort and quite frequently, a lot of work! SO what are the most recent findings that can make all this easier, to both understand and apply?
1. First of all, your personal growth work can change your brain!
It can be helpful to know that neuroscience and psychology have significant overlaps with each other as well as with ancient contemplative practices – (Mindfulness being a ‘modern’ version and the most commonly quoted). When you apply techniques such as the Applied Emotional Mastery (AEM) techniques and practices, you are not only helping yourself and your actions or relationships short-term, you are also actually changing the very structure of your brain, thereby impacting your life long-term. Neuroscientists can now shows us clearly that repeated emotional and mental activity entail repetition of neural (brain) activity which builds actual neural structures. It is said that neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that the more you for example feel compassion for yourself and others, the more you will be inclined to feel compassionate in situations when you previously might have found it difficult. Conversely, the more you allow yourself to feel put upon or resentful (and justify feeling that way), the more hardwired this becomes and the more predisposed you become to feeling this way in response to a variety of situations.
2. Secondly, all humans have a bias towards negativity. (It’s not just you!) Our ancestors, trying to survive cave life, would understandably place more importance on avoiding sticks than pursuing carrots. The result is that our brains are wired to pay most attention to anything that feels even remotely threatening or disturbing. In our memory bank there is a preferential ‘coding’ that makes us learn faster from pain than pleasure and be more motivated by fear of loss than by desire for gain. (This explains a lot!)
To make positive changes that give lasting benefit and become permanent traits it is not quite enough to merely think positively. We need to download it – (consider it like installing or downloading a program onto your computer versus just viewing a link) – and that involves emotions. To ‘download’ or install anything positive requires both repetition and prolonged experience, allowing the integration of the ‘new’ emotional experience or perspective in your brain to become traits –the desired change to become ‘hardwired’– making increased resilience, inner strength, and other desired qualities permanent.
SO: here’s a couple of tips/reminders to help you install an increased state of well-being:
A short, 5 minute meditation integrated into your daily routine will activate the ‘Executive’ circuits in the brain. Reconnecting with the feeling you experienced in the meditation, throughout your day, will strengthen it and serve as a great centring tool!
To recover from too many stress-hormones and build resilience, we need to generate those hormones that give us a much-needed balance, including endorphins. We do this best by RELISHING the good feelings and experiences we have. When you are enjoying something, savour it. The longer you keep that feeling of appreciation or relishing going, the more the neurons keep firing together and the more chance there is of the neurons wiring together. For example, on your way to work and enjoying the blue sky and sunshine, keep enjoying it. Stop your wandering mind by bringing it back to how good it feels to really appreciate the sunny morning, RELISH AND ABSORB THE GOOD FEELING! Install it!