Within the past 20 years, neuroscience has shown how we can rewire our brains to improve our mental health, mood, and general outlook on life. The layman’s bumper sticker for this insight is: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Beyond the catchphrase, our ability to consciously rewire our brains is extremely powerful, especially within the context of changing the narratives we tell ourselves – i.e., the stories that underpin our behaviors, beliefs, and how we view ourselves and the world.
Master Your Moods
When first introduced to the concept of neuroplasticity, I was extremely skeptical. The idea of remapping my cerebral cortex through mindfulness techniques, emotional brain training (EBT), and other means was simply too woo-woo for me.
Yes, I believed I was hardwired to respond to external stimuli in set, repeatable patterns – some good, some bad, and some that had worked in the past but no longer served me well. But did I believe it was possible to consciously change these patterns? Not a chance! I fell squarely into Vladimir’s camp when he tells Estragon: “One is not master of one's moods." Today, however, I am sure the Waiting for Godot protagonist is wrong. I simply have changed my mind – i.e., neuroplasticity at work.
Being an English major (hence, the Godot reference), along with a desire to keep this blog relatively brief, I will spare you a dissertation on the science behind neuroplasticity. What I will do, however, is provide you with the following six-minute YouTube video that helped change my mind. It’s is an edited version of a 2012 Ted Talk given by Dr. Joe Dispenza, a neuroplasticity trailblazer. It is worth watching to the end (14:40) where you can see a video of neurons disconnecting and reconnecting – a real-time demonstration of the “science of changing your mind” in action.
The Affirmation Way
One of the simplest, most effective means to recalibrate your brain in a positive, beneficial way is through positive affirmations. Again in terms of woo-woo quotient, I am not bought in to new age beliefs about universal vibrations. In fact, the last time I checked, the Universe seemed to have forgotten my name. What I do know, however, is this: 10 minutes’ worth of gratitude affirmations every other morning does wonders to improve my overall disposition and the way I handle adversity throughout the day.
Positive psychology, which focuses on mental wellness instead of pathologies, posits that affirmations can bolster self-esteem and motivate us to better ourselves. Affirmation practice works on the premise that repetition is how human beings learn. Along with learning your multiplication tables, this includes learning how to reduce stress, manage your emotions, or heighten your vision and innovation as a leader. For me, my morning affirmations become mantras I repeat throughout the day, thereby greasing and activating my better-self neural networks in a continuous fashion. The affirmations also come in handy when devising strong passwords, reminding me to be appreciative every time I log into email, check my 401(k), or review a credit card account.
If you’re still leery or unsure about where or how to start your personal affirmation practice, fear not. The online world is chock-full of YouTube videos, Spotify audio streams, and other resources that can walk you through your first foray into positive affirmation. Below are several good places to start:
10-Minute Morning Gratitude Affirmations (10 min) – Bob Baker’s Affirmation, Meditation, and Inspiration channel, YouTube
Gratitude Affirmations (featuring Ram Singh) (4 min) – Guided Meditations for a Peaceful Heart album, Spotify
Attitude of Gratitude Present Affirmations (5 min) - Trinity Affirmations, Attitude of Gratitude Affirmations playlist, Spotify
If you've never tried affirmation practice before now but are curious enough to give it a shot, please leave a comment below to say how it went. Meanwhile, if you're already an affirmation aficionado, I would welcome any insights or suggestions you have. I am even happy to hear from all the skeptics out there... and I won't try to change your mind. Promise.