Friday, January 05, 2007

Habit? Rut? Ravine?

While we're learning how to give our brains what it wants for robust neural activity, another little life challenge is worth mentioning.

Mental habits are the background of behavior. These electrical impulses are so imbedded, they go unseen for the most part. However, they are not unchangeable. You can begin to unveil that background by trying small new actions. For example, stop yourself when you are doing something absolutely routine -- like getting milk (rice, almond, soy or cow) out of the refrigerator in the morning. Any tiny change will begin to redirect brain signals and can start showing you just how deep that brain rut has gone. Standing at the refrigerator, just step back and close the door again. The wiring that automatically swings an arm in, grabs the milk carton and then moves to clear the door has been interrupted. The neurons are searching for direction. If you are interrupting a very entrenched signal, you may feel off balance, annoyed, or confused.


You're getting information about your brain's wiring.

Emotional ruts can be the real ravines. The other day I noticed I was having hurt feelings left and right. When I wasn't engaged in conversation with someone who was "hurting my feelings," I was imagining a hurtful exchange. Hello? This is a rut, or, as the day went on, I began calling it a ravine. I decided to explore the territory a bit, looking at the old triggers for such a habit. Childhood, no doubt. I made an executive decision about the importance of knowing the details, and rather than try to recreate the original hurt, I embraced the part of me that still goes there. Just allowing this process grows neurons and starts to dismantle mental habits.

I asked myself what other options I had, right now, for feeling my life. Turning to gratitude, the great cleanser, I realized I was overwhelmed by gratefulness. This was a profound shift. Now I was in a completely different area of my brain, and I could feel it.

Mental habits can and usually do induce a chemical cascade in the body. These are the familiar feelings we wake to over and over, wondering why we are torturing ourselves. Remember, they're habits. Neural pathways the brain takes because the triggers are there. We have enormous power over this, if we choose to use it. Turning from hurt to gratitude is one example of the power of stopping, listening, and embracing one's inner landscape.



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