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.

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