Thursday, 2 January 2014

Is Your Brain in a Rut?

I have begun reading a book that deals with “brain plasticity” which is a term that introduces a newly held scientific finding that the brain is not a physiologically static organ, but a dynamic organ in that it (the brain) changes throughout life.

First of all for someone who is, let’s just say, maturing that is good news.  My inability to remember things had me assuming that I would soon be ready for a residential living facility.  This finding suggests that I can still continue to learn.  Secondly there is evidence that we can retrain our brain in the way it thinks about certain subjects or occurrences.  

Let me try to explain how retraining our brains works in the most simplistic of terms because that is all that I am capable of doing.  Our brains form “neural pathways” based on certain stimuli.  For example if I were to associate eating a piece of chocolate as a way of relieving my stress, then as I begin to feel stressed I would begin to crave chocolate.  Now if I used other coping strategies my brain would not rely on just one response.  However if I always turn to chocolate then I establish a strong neurological pathway that becomes my only go to solution, an automatic response, the more I use it.   I’m trying to convince myself that a piece of chocolate is the panacea for everything that bothers me, but I digress.

As I continue to approach a situation with the same response, a “rut” begins to form in my brain.  If I am interpreting this correctly, and that’s a big if, then it tells me that the more I convince myself that something is true it becomes true.

Now the application to marriage.  If we continue to tell ourselves that our husband/wife is deficient in some area of our relationship then over time it becomes true to us.  As our spouse repeats a behavior that reinforces our opinion it triggers a negative emotional reaction in us.  As a Christian we must be quick to recognize that such negative emotions are not coming from God but “our enemy the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  1Peter 5:8)

Neuroplasticity suggests that we can change our neural pathway.  Instead of allowing the negative emotional response to surface and dig a deeper rut we can choose to respond differently with the help of the Holy Spirit.  We can tell ourselves that our spouse is not behaving in a way that irritates us intentionally.  Give them the benefit of the doubt.  The more you can recast the behavior that bothers you in a more favorable light, the more you will begin to train a new neural pathway.  This in turn will make your life more pleasant.

If you are a neuroscientist and/or know something about brain plasticity, I’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

One Thing

“… let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.  Hebrews 12:1  The Voice

This blog was inspired by Andy Stanley’s sermon entitled “Just One Thing”.  Many of us are notorious for making New Year’s resolutions, most of us who do give up early in the race (usually by the end of January).  Andy’s challenge to his congregation was to settle on just one thing they would pay full attention to this year, one thing that would dramatically improve their life, their relationships, their health, etc.

I would ask that you narrow your choice to the one thing that would most impact your marriage in a positive way.   For husbands that might mean paying special attention on how you can go about loving  your wife as much as you love yourself.  What would that require?   For wives it might be how you can be less critical, i.e. disrespectful.  What would that take?

However that does not rule out a number of other categories that could affect the quality of your marriage.   Perhaps you are struggling financially and that is causing much stress in your marriage.  What sacrifices might you have to make to get your finances under control?  Perhaps you are in poor physical condition.  Being in better condition physically can pay a lot of benefits, in particular a better quality of life together.

Perhaps you have an irritating habit or mannerism.  How can you eliminate it?   As the husband you are to be the servant leader, protector and provider.  A part of the leadership responsibility includes leading your family spiritually.  In particular husbands and wives should pray together every day.  For many men this is a true challenge.  Many of us did not grow up with our fathers modeling such behavior.  Many men feel ill equipped and often not as learned as their wives.  There are many helps out there if this describes you.  There is actually a newly released book entitled “The Seven Minute Marriage Solution.”  

The seven minutes is comprised of  reading a biblical passage (that is usually part of a devotional guide), read the devotional, comment on what had the most meaning to you, and then pray together.  That whole process can easily be done in seven minutes, obviously  more time would yield even better results. There are many such devotionals that are free downloads on the internet, there is no shortage of material.

 What’s the one thing that you need to do in this upcoming year that will make your marriage the best it has ever been?